Shares of Microsoft ( MSFT) briefly edged into positive territory Monday on reports the software behemoth will face a 497 million euros (about $611 million) fine from the European Union. Microsoft shares traded as low as $24.01 intraday. After wire services reported the fine, shares climbed as high as $24.98 before retreating again to close down 13 cents, or 0.5%, to $24.50. Still, the software giant fared far better than major averages, which lost between 1.2% and 1.6% Monday. "I wouldn't be surprised if the way this whole thing works out is as we get a dollar figure, the uncertainty going away can result in a better stock price action," said Alex Vallecillo, a senior portfolio manager at National City Investment Management Co., in explanation of the stock's intraday moves. His firm holds Microsoft stock. Citing unnamed sources, wire services reported the European Union member states were supporting a proposed 497 million euros fine -- far short of the maximum possible, which is 10% of Microsoft's annual revenue, or roughly $3 billion. The EU has found the software firm culpable of abusing the dominant position of its Windows operating system to its advantage in both the media player and server markets. The rumored fine surpasses the 462 million euros imposed on Hoffman-La Roche in 2001 by the European Commission, the EU's executive body, according to wire services. "Bill is going to have to dig deep into his pocket for this one," Vallecillo said sarcastically of Microsoft Founder and Chief Technology Architect Bill Gates. Still, it's a drop in the bucket for Microsoft, whose cash treasure chest reached a whopping $52.8 billion on Dec. 31.
But Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler said the sum is too much. "I think given the lack of a clear legal standard on these issues it's hard to see how a fine of this magnitude -- if, in fact, this is the fine -- could be warranted under these circumstances," he said. "Obviously, we do not agree with the commission in key areas." Microsoft officials indicated last week that the company would likely appeal the EC decision, expected to come in final form Wednesday. In addition to the fine, the EU is expected to require Microsoft to sell a version of Windows without the Media Player and sell code to rivals to show how its server software operates with Windows.