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Company News: Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, Caterpillar

Microsoft: Helping out a Dell in need

Microsoft (MSFT) may partner with investment firm Silver Lake Management to take Dell (DELL) private through a leveraged buyout, possibly chipping in about $2 billion to the deal, a person with knowledge of the matter said on Jan. 22. For cash-rich Microsoft, propping up the seller of PCs and tablets that feature its software makes sense, as PC shipments face a prolonged slump and both companies struggle to mount a credible response to Apple (AAPL) and Google’s (GOOG) mobile dominance. The Dell investment could ratchet up tension with Microsoft’s other hardware partners, already displeased by the software company’s foray into making tablet computers.

Samsung: Circling RIM’s prized customers

Samsung Ventures Investment, the South Korean mobile handset maker’s investment arm, bought a stake in a mobile security company to lure business and government clients away from Research In Motion’s (RIMM) BlackBerry franchise. Samsung paid an undisclosed sum for a stake in Toronto-based Fixmo, which makes security software developed with the U.S. National Security Agency. RIM is counting on its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones, set to debut on Jan. 30, to keep lawyers, bankers, and public servants faithful to the brand.

Caterpillar: Problems in China

Caterpillar (CAT) will take a $580 million writedown after finding what it called accounting “misconduct” at a Chinese unit acquired last year. Caterpillar bought ERA Mining Machinery for $793 million in October to gain factories that make coal-mining equipment in China, the world’s largest coal producer. Caterpillar said it removed several senior managers responsible for the misdeeds. In April the company said it was moving excess inventory of excavators from China to other countries.

Johnson & Johnson: Looking to sell its diagnostic unit

Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) may sell its $2.2 billion diagnostic unit for blood and cholesterol tests as the company focuses on genetic screening to complement its drug pipeline. J&J is reviewing options for the Ortho Clinical Diagnostics division, which makes devices for screening blood bank donations and sells more than 120 tests for everything from high cholesterol to fertility hormones. Fourth-quarter sales for the unit, which generates about 3.3 percent of J&J’s revenue, were down 4.3 percent from a year earlier.

Atari: A bankruptcy to stay in the game

Atari’s (ATA:FP) U.S.-based video game business filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to separate from its unprofitable French parent and attract independent funding. Founded in 1972, Atari pioneered arcade and video games with hits such as Pong and Asteroids. It now lags behind giants Activision Blizzard (ATVI) and Electronic Arts (EA), despite owning or managing more than 200 brands, including Centipede and Missile Command. The French parent, which bought Atari in 2008 and took its name, hasn’t been profitable since 1999.

On the Move

— Novartis: Chairman Daniel Vasella steps down

— Sirius XM Radio: Directors Leon Black, Lawrence Gilberti, and Jack Shaw leave after Liberty Media takeover

— UBS: Andre Cronje named investment bank COO


Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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