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MS stock price blitzed in NY, but Red Hat on the up

Investors fear wave of ambulance-chasing litigants

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Forty-two million shares of Microsoft changed hands in the first 45 minutes of nervous trading in New York this morning, as investors and speculators tried to make sense of Friday's unfavourable findings of fact in the company's antitrust suit. Under normal circumstances, something like 20 to 25 million shares of Microsoft might be traded in an entire day. Microsoft values fell by as much as 8.6 percent in early trading, but recovered gradually throughout the morning. At one point, however, a cool $30 billion had been wiped off its value. By mid-day, Microsoft's losses on 72 million shares traded were in the range of 3 to 4 per cent, still sufficient to help drag the Dow Jones Industrial Average, upon which the company made its debut last week, down by more than 25 points. But nothing could stop the tide of celebration on the NASDAQ Exchange, which rose 15 per cent by mid-day despite the fact that Microsoft accounts for 16 percent of its value. NASDAQ issues Oracle, Red Hat, Netscape and Apple all enjoyed smart gains adequate to compensate for MS losses, and then some. We can expect investor jitters to keep the stock in a volatile state at least until the judge delivers his ruling early next year. Market agitation today was due in part to an interview with Assistant US Attorney General Joel Klein, head of the DoJ's antitrust division, on the ABC Sunday news programme, "This Week", during which Klein stated for the first time that a breakup is a realistic possibility. Even if the verdict falls short of a breakup, the findings of fact are already negative enough to tempt Lilliputian legions of opportunistic lawyers to mount all manner of class-action suit against the Redmond giant. This could lead to persistently depressed share prices, as Wall Street has a real penchant for punishing the victims of opportunistic legal actions. ®

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