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Microsoft antitrust ruling no shock

NEW YORK, April 3 (Reuters) - The federal judge presiding over the U.S. government's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft Corp. (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news) found the software giant violated U.S. antitrust law.

The judge's ruling follows the collapse of settlement talks between Microsoft and the government on Saturday. A mediator said the differences were too deep-seated to find a deal at this time.

In regular-session Nasdaq trade, Microsoft shares plunged by $15-3/8 to $90-7/8, knocking $80 billion off the company's value, down to $473 billion, as the market anticipated an adverse ruling. Trading in Microsoft shares where halted minutes before the the announcement by District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson.

The following are equity market strategist views on the ruling.

 

BARRY HYMAN, MARKET STRATEGIST AT EHRENKRANTZ, KING NUSSBAUM INC.

-- "Based upon the news of the last couple of days, this is the expected outcome we have been looking for, not the one we had been hoping for. This news was discounted today as the first stage of the remedy process. I would think that Microsoft might trade lower another five to 10 percent over time, depending on the remedies. The immediate reaction might be a relief.

I would think that after a sloppy opening on Tuesday, it is very likely that you will see a rally in the Nasdaq. Whether the rally holds is another question."

 

RICHARD BABSON, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT OF BABSON-UNITED INVESTMENT ADVISORS INC., WATERTOWN, MASS.:

-- ``The good news is that it (the decision) is being addressed to the Web browser market instead of anything else.''

He said Microsoft shares were likely to languish and the issue would overshadow the Dow and Nasdaq.

``The problem ... is that right now Microsoft's been ruled to have a smoking gun. It's just a question of everybody looking around in his specific market to see if they have any bullet holes.''

``This case has been seen as a bellwether gauge for government intervention in the information superhighway. What can be seen here is the government through the Justice Department seems to be changing the traffic signals and the speed limit. That seems to be causing some uncertainty.''

 

BOB BISSELL, PRESIDENT, WELLS CAPITAL MANAGEMENT.

-- "It sounds like it is coming out just as expected. The government would talk tough and Microsoft is ready for round two. I'm not sure if it changes anything other than that it has got to run its course and it is going to take a while.

 

DONALD SELKIN, CHIEF MARKET STRATEGIST AT JOSEPH GUNNAR & CO.:

-- "We're actually seeing a slight rally in Microsoft's' price from the 4 p.m. close and we're seeing a rise in the futures market from the close also. (The decision) is being construed near-term as something that was in the market and anticlimactic. Microsoft said they'll appeal and it could take two year until the Supreme Court hears it.

``This is a near-term relief rally, because the market already discounted this news. That doesn't mean we're going to rally like crazy tomorrow, but I would think we could at least stabilize down here.''

ARNOLD BERMAN, TECHNOLOGY STRATEGIST, WIT SOUNDVIEW.

-- "The ruling is exactly as expected. The disappointing part is that they were not able to come to terms before the ruling, once a ruling became inevitiable, it was not much surprise in the way the ruling came down. It was a foregone conclusion. These are the times when (the stock price) swings to one extreme. It swings in another direction when people get bored to death with the legal machinations.

RAO CHALASANI, CHIEF INVESTMENT STRATEGIST, FIRST UNION SECURITIES

-- "Microsoft is going to contest (the ruling). It will probably take several months for it to be resolved. This is not the end point, this is the middle or early part. I can't tell if Microsoft's stock is going to go down but the cloud will still be on the company and people will be paying a lot more attention it.

``I would expect at least part of the puzzle or the suspense is behind so from that perspective it should be a relief for the stock market. There could be a relief rally coming through but it may or may not last as the day wears on tomorrow.''

ROBERT BURGOYNE, TECHNOLOGY STRATEGIST, MONUMENT FUNDS GROUP.

-- "I think this is going to take a long time to resolve. I think basically you have intractable positions on either side. On the plaintiffs' side you also have all of those state attorneys general who may or may not have the same type of goals as the Justice Department which makes a settlement that much more difficult.

-- "Meanwhile, Microsoft has many exciting projects that they're working on right now that will continue to drive revenue growth at the company. However the stock is likely to be in some kind of trading range until we have the next event. One of the presidential aspirants may make a comment.

-- "It's a huge political issue. It's just too large and there's too many dollars at stake for people not to look at this very seriously. Microsoft has $45 billion of assets, $19 billion of which are cash. Many people look on that as perhaps their next big payday.

 

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