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CFO Greg Maffei encouraged analysts in a conference call late Thursday to lower their revenue estimates by $400 million for the third quarter because of coupons related to the upcoming release of

Office 2000


But Maffei said he still expects the software giant to meet earnings per share estimates for the quarter ending March 31.

At the start of the year, the Redmond, Wash., company sent coupons to people who bought

Office 97

, allowing them to receive a free upgrade to Office 2000 when it ships. Maffei said Office 2000 is on track to ship in the June quarter but that it is accounting for those coupons as unearned revenue until the product is actually delivered. Microsoft has estimated that the unearned revenue linked to the coupons would be roughly $400 million in the third quarter, or roughly 8 cents per share.

Maffei assured analysts that this move was simply an "accounting mechanic unrelated to the health of the business" and that the unearned revenue should return to earnings next quarter when Office 2000 is delivered. So the $400 million is only, in essence, being pushed back into the fourth quarter, he said.

Despite the lower revenue guidance for the third quarter, Maffei told analysts that Microsoft should still meet

First Call

's earnings consensus estimate of 65 cents per share. He said investment income should offset the 8-cent loss related to coupons. Microsoft has beaten estimates for the past five quarters. Last quarter, it beat First Call consensus by 14 cents a share.

Maffei reiterated that Microsoft would see a sequential decline in revenue based on regular seasonal patterns. He also emphasized that Microsoft was not seeing any slowdown in PC demand, outside of normal seasonal slowdowns. "PC demand is definitely there," he said.

Recent nervousness over PC demand, he said, was caused in part by channel stuffing from some manufacturers and in part by European original equipment manufacturers reducing inventories to two to three weeks from four to six weeks. "But end-user demand is very good and not out of line with any of our estimates," he said, noting that other manufacturers that sell mostly to small businesses are seeing "very strong" demand.

Geographically, he noted that Brazil looked slow because of economic jitters and seasonality. However, he said Asia seemed to be improving. "PC shipments in Japan certainly seem to be getting better," he said.