As Bill Gates prepared for a two-year hike into the sunset, Wall Street used the occasion of his transition to detail their mostly positive assessment of the company he founded.
Analysts at J.P. Morgan reiterated the equivalent of a buy rating on
Friday, saying Gates' departure in 2008 has only modest implications for the company. Citigroup maintained a neutral on the shares but noted that they remain cheap using historical valuations.
The stock was trading at $21.99 early Friday, down 8 cents from Thursday's close. Share are down 15% since the start of the year and currently fetch just 15.7 times the Thomson First Call earnings consensus for the year ending next June, roughly equivalent to the multiple afforded to the
as a whole.
Late Thursday, Gates, Microsoft's chairman, announced Thursday that he will move out of a day-to-day role at the company to spend more time with his charitable foundation.
The giant software company announced a two-year transition process to ensure that there is a "smooth and orderly transfer" of Gates' daily responsibilities. After July 2008, Gates will continue to serve as the company's chairman and as an adviser on key development projects.
Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie will immediately assume Gates' title of chief software architect and begin working side by side with Gates on all technical architecture and product-oversight responsibilities, to ensure a smooth transition.
Similarly, Chief Technical Officer Craig Mundie will immediately take the new title of chief research and strategy officer and will partner with general counsel Brad Smith to guide Microsoft's intellectual-property and technology policy efforts.
"Our business and technical leadership has never been stronger, and Microsoft is well-positioned for success in the years ahead. I feel very fortunate to have such great technical leaders like Ray and Craig at the company," Gates said. "I remain fully committed and full-time at Microsoft through June 2008 and will be working side by side with Ray and Craig to ensure that a smooth transition occurs."
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster notes that shares of Microsoft bounced briefly when the press conference was announced, but moved south after the news got out. "What's surprising is that
CEO Steve Ballmer is staying," he said during an interview on
. There have been rumors that Ballmer would leave the company because he has been unable to move Microsoft's range-bound share price.
But Gates called his longtime friend and business partner "the best CEO for Microsoft that I could imagine."
The promotion of Ozzie, best known as the developer of Lotus Notes, was seen as less surprising since he and Gates have been working closely for some time. "He's probably the right guy," says Munster.
Daniel Morgan, portfolio manager for Synovus Investment Advisors, has been critical of Microsoft for some time. Today's announcement, he says, doesn't change his opinion. "I've said I'm keeping them on a short leash, hoping things jell in the next few quarters." But if they don't, he says, he may well sell off the shares his company holds.
"I don't feel that much of a loss. The company is so large it doesn't depend on any one person. Gates isn't driving innovation anymore," he says.
Now 50 years old, Gates seemed a bit wistful as he announced his diminished role at the company he and Paul Allen started in 1975. "When Paul Allen and I stated Microsoft we had big dreams about software. It's amazing to see so much of that dream become a reality," he said.
Gates' retreat from operational command began in 2000, when he stepped aside as CEO in favor of Ballmer, and assumed the newly created role of chief software architect. He started the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with his wife, a one-time Microsoft employee, in 2000. Its assets now total $29.1 billion.