April 23, 2013
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has a new investor to the tune of a $2 billion position ValueAct Capital, a $10 billion activist-oriented hedge fund, took on Monday, driving shares of the software maker to $30.83, a level the stock hasn’t seen since last September.
By virtue of its investment, ValueAct becomes one of Microsoft’s top five investors, although its position amounts only to about 1 percent of the overall shares outstanding. ValueAct chief executive Jeffrey Ubben confirmed the investment at a conference in New York following the CNBC report.
Without commenting directly on ValueAct’s stake, Microsoft issued a statement in which it said it is “committed to enhancing value for all shareholders, and will continue to take actions that we believe will enable us to achieve this objective.”
CNBC, which first reported the story, said that ValueAct’s activist reputation, particularly to rally shareholders to its positions, may serve to alter Microsoft’s sales strategy and product development, perhaps away from Windows and Office 2013 and toward software and services that can produce greater value. The hedge fund typically holds its positions in companies for a long period of time and, under some circumstances, has a reputation for seeking board seats, CNBC said.
Microsoft shareholders have groused about the stock price not changing much in value from where it stood more than a decade ago. At some point, should the stock continue only to tread water, ValueAct’s involvement might provide shareholders with a sense that what's needed to drive the company's value noticeably higher is a change in its leadership, strategy, focus and execution.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, Ubben, in discussing the ValueAct investment, suggested that Microsoft’s back-end enterprise software and database technology are underappreciated by investors, pointing out that corporate software sales can blossom even during the current PC downturn. He also paid particular attention to Microsoft’s cloud technology, saying, “Microsoft could be the largest cloud company in the world” in the next three to five years.
With a 1 percent stake in the company, the degree to which ValueAct can influence Microsoft’s operations is open to question. Some investors have voiced concerns over the long tenure of current chief executive Steve Ballmer—who has been at the company’s helm for 13 years—but whether a wave of investor discontent could unseat Ballmer, who owns 4 percent of Microsoft, is anybody’s guess, especially considering the fact that founder Bill Gates still commands 5 percent of the company.
But all that is fodder for another day, if at all.
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