Corel in Bed With Microsoft

Shares of Corel rocketed 57% following news that
Microsoft would pocket a 25% stake in the
struggling Ottawa-based software developer. Redmond’s eight hundred pound
gorilla will buy 24 million non-voting convertible preferred shares for
nearly $135 million, or about five and a half bucks a pop. What was a
substantial premium paid prior to the announcement ended the following
trading day at a discount as investors loudly cheered news of the deal.


The terms of the agreement remain shrouded in pseudo-secrecy, but early
indications have Corel hopping on Microsoft’s .NET bandwagon where the pair
will jointly develop applications for the new platform. There’s much
speculation swirling that this latest move by Softie stems from an interest
in keeping a potential competitor afloat while it navigates through the
antitrust appeals process. While that reasoning may seem plain as day, I
doubt highly that it’s a key motivator for the software giant, nor will it
factor in materially during appeals. Microsoft surely has an agenda, but
what it is ain’t exactly clear.


One thing that is noteworthy is the comparisons one can draw between this
latest investment and Microsoft’s similar surprise $150 million stake in
Apple Computer three years ago. Then-interim-CEO
Steve Jobs’ inaugural steps toward leading discouraged Apple investors to
the promise-land was to turn its most bitter enemy into an ally. Burying
the hatchet with billionaire-Bill tied a rabbit’s foot around Apple’s
stock, rewarding investors handsomely. And you can hardly blame Corel
shareholders for getting almost giddy at the prospects of a repeat
performance.


Some skeptics of the deal and Microsoft in general will be waiting for the
other shoe to fall. That may indeed materialize, but being cash-strapped
makes for strange bedfellows, and after Corel’s ongoing fight for survival
and highly publicized difficulties, this cash infusion can only be a
win-win. Anyone who tells you different should try telling that to the
company’s shareholders who just last week were making preparations to use
their stock certificates to line the catbox. Former CEO Michael Cowpland’s
abrupt departure, dwindling cash reserves, and mounting losses all but
sealed Corel’s fate – until now.


After Cowpland exited his role as top banana, Corel bumped Derek Burney up
to interim president and CEO. They say necessity is the mother of all
invention, and if Corel’s latest quarterly results are any indication,
truer words were never spoken. The company steamrolled consensus forecasts
late last month, delivering a narrower-than-expected loss, showing a real
effort to tighten the belt and bring spending under control. Following the
Microsoft announcement this week, the company dropped the interim from
Burney’s job title while rewarding four of his colleagues with executive
vice president roles. For the boo-birds who counted Corel out – stick
around – things are just getting interesting.


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