Feeds

Microsoft thanks Bush with historic share dividend

Thanks, Bill! No, thank you George...

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Reducing security risks from open source software

When the Bush Administration was sworn in, in January 2001, Microsoft was in the position that we so often find James Bond in mid-way through a movie: strapped to a table and heading inexorably towards a huge carving machine or deadly laser.

By November, the fix was in. Attorney General John Ashcroft had indicated that he had little interest in pursuing the case, and several Department of Justice Antitrust attorneys had already left, disillusioned. The result was a settlement neatly summarized by the financial analysts we cited at the time: "a major win; no substantive change in business model or R&D practices; maintain Buy."

Ashcroft had declined to excuse himself from the case: despite having taken $20,000 in campaign contributions for his Senate campaign from Microsoft and refused to disclose contacts with the company. That said, the contribution hadn't done him much good: he still lost the race to a dead man.

So yesterday, remembering its manners, Microsoft got its chance to thank the Administration properly, and it timed the announcement to perfection.

For the first time in its history as a public corporation, Microsoft will pay a dividend to its shareholders. Technology companies loathe paying dividends, although a few pay a token sum. Historically, they prefer to buy back public stock to increase the company's share price: IBM, Intel, Sun and Cisco have spent billions on share purchase programs that effectively shrink the company. Scott McNealy told us it would be a cold day in hell before Sun ever paid a dividend, although in strict terms, both dividends and buy backs are equally money down the drain to a corporation.

Why is this so well timed? On January 6, President Bush announced his new budget, and its centerpiece is the elimination of tax on stock dividends, at the eye-watering cost of $370 billion over ten years.

It should be a hard sell. The administration has already been preparing the public for a move away from progressive taxation, complaining that the poor don't pay enough. Despite targeted cuts to lower income groups, the dividend exemption favors the wealthiest, as most stock holders are institutional investors or extremely loaded individuals, and has been criticized by Bush's former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and from his own side of the Senate.

Lobbyists for technology companies privately oppose the plan, with one telling the Washington Post: "This is not the bill that's going to pass Congress, and everybody knows it." A dead duck, then.

But rumors that a major technology company - Cisco was mentioned, as was The Beast - would break with tradition have been circulating for a little while now.

Microsoft's decision to pay a dividend allows the administration to claim that America's most notorious corporate lawbreaker is in fact, a redistributive angel in wolf's clothing. Thanks to this incredible partnership, we'll soon hear, business and government can get the economy moving. Billions will trickle back to MSFT-holding families, demonstrating that economic stimulus comes not from any Keynesian multiplier, but through the charity of the rich, so justifying the reward, not punishment of the largest corporations. It's a supply-sider's dream!

As an added benefit, this will again sanitize "popular capitalism" - which currently has a rather poor reputation now after the largest loss of wealth in human history - the "Long Boom" having gone Phutt. (Where is Kevin Kelly now?)

Curiously, there is a rational case to be made for encouraging dividends, it's just that the Bush Administration isn't making it. Encouraging long-term stockholding rather than speculative day trading ought to reward profitable companies and encourage long-term investment, taking much of the volatility out of capitalism. That's a case I haven't yet heard, however. I suppose when the Big Lie has worked so effectively, there's little need to resort to reason.

But there you have it: the "Quid" to your "Pro Quo".®

Eight steps to building an HP BladeSystem

More from The Register

next story
BBC goes offline in MASSIVE COCKUP: Stephen Fry partly muzzled
Auntie tight-lipped as major outage rolls on
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
White? Male? You work in tech? Let us guess ... Twitter? We KNEW it!
Grim diversity numbers dumped alongside Facebook earnings
HP, Microsoft prove it again: Big Business doesn't create jobs
SMEs get lip service - what they need is dinner at the Club
Bose says today is F*** With Dre Day: Beats sued in patent battle
Music gear giant seeks some of that sweet, sweet Apple pie
Amazon Reveals One Weird Trick: A Loss On Almost $20bn In Sales
Investors really hate it: Share price plunge as growth SLOWS in key AWS division
Dude, you're getting a Dell – with BITCOIN: IT giant slurps cryptocash
1. Buy PC with Bitcoin. 2. Mine more coins. 3. Goto step 1
There's NOTHING on TV in Europe – American video DOMINATES
Even France's mega subsidies don't stop US content onslaught
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.