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  (Source: Reuters)
Amid low share prices, Ballmer received a chilly reception from some shareholders at their annual meeting

At Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) annual shareholder Wednesday, the company's at-times boisterous Chief Executive Steven "Steve" Ballmer brought in Microsoft's "big guns" -- former Microsoft CEO, co-founder, and tech icon Bill Gates and Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein.  But at the meeting of 450 shareholders, Mr. Ballmer did not need to enlist the help of his fellow Microsoft elite, who remained silent even as the meeting turned chilly, according to Reuters reporters in attendance.

Amid tough questions from the audience, Mr. Ballmer was candid in his assessment that Microsoft was a late-comer to the tablet game, but he told the audience in a fiery defense that he saw "nothing but a sea of upside" for Windows 8 tablets.  He comments, "We're innovating on the seam between software and hardware.  Maybe we should have done that earlier.  [But] I feel pretty good about our [current] level of innovation."

Indeed, Microsoft has some defenders in odd places.  Stephen "Steve" Wozniak, better known as the "Woz", was once a ferocious critic of Microsoft and evangelist for Apple, Inc. (AAPL), the company he co-founded.  But today he said in a recent TechCrunch interview that he fears for Apple because Microsoft has become more innovative.

Steve Ballmer
Steve Ballmer is overwhelmed with anticipation regarding his company's
prospects in the tablet market. [Image Source: Getty Images]

Others might disagree.

While Mr. Ballmer pointed optimistically to Windows Phone sales quadrupling on a year-to-year basis, the platform is still estimated to only own 2 to 4 percent of the global market, well behind Apple and market leader Google Inc. (GOOG).  While Microsoft dreams of "pulling a Google" and rising to the top of the stack, it currently is resigned to vying with embattled Research in Motion, Ltd. (TSE:RIM) for the third-place spot.

But when it came to shareholder criticism, the harshest questions came not about Microsoft's products, but rather why its share price was so low.  Indeed, Microsoft shares trade at an order of magnitude lower than their Google and Apple counterparts.  (To be fair Microsoft has significantly approximately 9 times as many shares as Apple, and 25 times as many as Google).  Apple recently passed Microsoft in market capitalization and today has a total stock value that is more than twice that of Microsoft's.

Steve Ballmer dodged the share value question, remarking, "I understand your comment... [but Microsoft has] done a phenomenal job of driving product volumes... The stock market's kind of a funny thing."

Funny indeed, but the shareholders might have been less than amused.  Mr. Ballmer did placate the critics slightly by pointing to Microsoft's $10B USD profit sharing effort which includes share buybacks and quarterly dividends.

Currently, Microsoft shares are trading at around their levels from a decade ago, having risen roughly 18 percent in 2012.  In other words, despite the criticism, shareholders should be pleased to an extent that Microsoft outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 average of an anemic 3 percent in gains.

Source: Reuters





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