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Ballmer's Sweet Sellout: Tech Edge

-- Steve Ballmer's $1.33 billion insider selling move represented 12.2% of his entire Microsoft holdings, not 14% as originally reported. TheStreet regrets the error.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Microsoft's (MSFT - Get Report) Steve Ballmer is the rare chief executive that doesn't usually shrink from embarrassing situations and occasionally even throws himself into the spotlight.

But when it comes to unloading a billion or two worth of shares, Ballmer took the quiet route, announcing late Friday that he was looking to cash in $2 billion worth of Microsoft stock.
Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer

The fact that the move came Friday was telling. But the fact that a standup guy like Ballmer picked a Friday seemed uncharacteristically timid.

Releasing bad news on the eve of a weekend when the market's attention starts to drifts a bit is a slightly shady move. Not only does it shield the stock from any immediate pressure, it attempts to protect the subject from the harsh media spotlight.

In a brief statement late Friday, Ballmer said he "plans to sell up to 75 million shares by year-end" as a personal finance matter to help him with "financial diversification and to assist in tax planning." According to an SEC filing Friday, he unloaded 49.3 million shares for a staggering $1.33 billion in cash.

Unlike Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who sold 3 million shares, or $81.6 million, as part of his pre-arranged 10b-51 selling plan a day earlier, Ballmer's cash out was a surprise.

But don't fret, the 49.3 million shares Ballmer sold are a mere 12.2% of his total holdings. So he's effectively kept $8 billion of his power dry, you could say.

Ballmer has been under the gun in recent years for failing meet the Internet challenges posed by Google (GOOG - Get Report) and the rising threat of old nemesis Apple (AAPL - Get Report).

But this massive stock sale should in no way suggest he's not stoked about the company, which launched its new Windows 7 phones at AT&T (T - Get Report) and T-Mobile Monday.

"I am excited about our new products and the potential for our technology to change people's lives," Ballmer said in his statement late Friday. "And I remain fully committed to Microsoft and its success."

Well, maybe 12.2% less committed, let's say.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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Editor's note: "Tech Edge" is a blog written and compiled by Scott Moritz, TheStreet's senior tech correspondent. The blog explores behind-the-scenes tech news, rumors and reports that Wall Street folks are talking about.

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