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Ballmer To Sell Microsoft Stock

We're sure that Steve Ballmer doesn't mean to cause any panic with his planned big sale of Microsoft stock. He's very wealthy. He can do what he wants with his money. His tax preparations have to be only slightly more complicated than doing calculus in Mandarin.

Still...Ballmer's planning on selling $2 billion in stock by the end of the year. That's billion with a "b." Executives sell stock in their companies all the time, but Ballmer hasn't sold any of his Microsoft shares in seven years. He'll still have a lot left over after the sale, but this is not an insignificant dump.

All of this leads to the obvious question: What does Steve Ballmer know that we don't? It's hard to explain away a $2 billion stock dump -- the first in seven years -- with just the tax excuse. Does Ballmer see stormy seas on the horizon for Microsoft, financially speaking? And if so, how stormy could those seas be, given how long Microsoft's stock has been flat and how much it has actually declined this year (12 percent as of Monday morning)?

Does the CEO lack confidence in Windows Phone 7, Windows 8, Azure or the Xbox? Does he fear the effects of competition from companies like Google and Apple? Did he wake up one day and panic because he suddenly realized that he was still Microsoft's CEO (heh heh)? Is his job in jeopardy?

We don't know the answers to those questions, but we do feel as though now is a good time to ask them. Tax preparations or not, a CEO dumping billions in stock for the first time in years is not a sign of confidence for a company. There's almost no positive way to spin this story, especially since Microsoft stock has been falling -- meaning Ballmer isn't exactly taking profits here, in all likelihood. Partners, beware—Ballmer's move might not be bad news, but it almost can't be good news for Microsoft and the channel.

What's your take on Steve Ballmer as Microsoft CEO? Send it to lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 11/08/2010 at 1:23 PM


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