Look for U.S. District Judge
Thomas Penfield Jackson
to announce later today that he's going to hold on to his Conclusions of Law findings in the
antitrust action a little longer.
Jackson had told both sides in the contentious suit last Tuesday that they had one week left to settle. If there was no decision by today, he'd release his findings on how Microsoft violated federal antitrust law, using the monopoly status he ruled late last year Microsoft had built up in the computer operating systems business.
Although the DOJ and the 19 state attorneys general reviewing Microsoft's offer from late last week are still saying it's insufficient, Jackson has decided that the frantic rounds of emails and telephone calls to and from mediator
, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago, have borne enough fruit that he believes the parties have a chance of reaching a settlement, if given a little more time.
Since Jackson almost certainly would not have extended his deadline for a settlement without encouragement from Posner, it seems likely that Posner, too, believes hope remains for a negotiated conclusion to the long-running action.
Jackson's move is not entirely unexpected, though many observers felt too little progress had been made to justify the extension. Posner's work with the litigants on Monday led to renewed hopes that a settlement is possible.
Microsoft has been resistant to making the kinds of compromises demanded by the DOJ and the state attorneys general, and last week's offer marked only small movement by the software giant. Apparently Monday's talks with Posner persuaded them to move further.
Posner continues to manage this negotiation process by dealing with only one party at a time. He had planned to call both sides to Chicago this past weekend, for their first face-to-face meetings since the process began late last year. But government attorneys, reviewing the offer in settlement by Microsoft, decided it wasn't close enough to one they'd find acceptable and declined to come to Chicago. The weekend passed without meetings between the two sides.
On Monday, Posner's long-distance entreaties continued, again without face-to-face sessions.
Several state attorneys general remain the hard cases on the government side. Representatives of the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Iowa and perhaps Wisconsin are rumored to be the hardest to persuade that a decision that doesn't involve breaking Microsoft into two or more new entities is acceptable.
For investors, almost any settlement by Microsoft would prove beneficial to the company's stock price. After a 16% run-up last week on rumors of a pending settlement, Microsoft gave up a significant chunk of that gain Monday, closing down 7 5/8 at 104 1/16.
Microsoft's share price will continue to fluctuate Tuesday, as rumors of a settlement, or of a collapse and imminent release of Judge Jackson's Conclusions of Law -- universally expected to slam Microsoft -- swirl.
Until a final resolution of the antitrust case -- through several rounds of appeals, if required -- is reached, Microsoft's price seems likely to remain in the same 90-to-115 trading range it has occupied since late 1999.
But a quick conclusion, even if viewed as not very favorable to Microsoft, could send the share price skyrocketing.
We'll stay on top of the breaking news out of Washington. Look for more at
Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, neither Seymour nor Seymour Group held positions in any securities mentioned in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are, or have been recently, consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at