Microsoft’s Former CEO Ballmer Speaks Out on Buybacks

Steve Ballmer, who stepped down as Microsoft Corp.’s chief executive officer and board member this year, still has plenty of opinions to share about the company.

He doesn’t favor stock repurchases with “the market this high,” Ballmer, the company’s biggest individual shareholder, said in a tweet yesterday. The shares of the world’s largest software maker are up more than 30 percent this year, trading near highs last seen in 2000.

The former CEO’s comment appears to expand on remarks he made earlier yesterday at Microsoft’s annual shareholders’ meeting, where he was overheard by a Reuters reporter telling an acquaintance that Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood’s response to an audience member’s question on share buybacks “sucked.”

Hood, who was promoted to the position by Ballmer last year, was answering a query about the price at which Microsoft wouldn’t buy back its own stock. Instead of giving a figure, she said Microsoft’s future was “very bright” and that the shares reflect the company’s ability to execute on that promise.

Ballmer was CEO when Microsoft began buying back shares a decade ago, and faced demands from investors until his exit to return money from the company’s growing cash pile to shareholders. After paying a special one-time $3-a-share dividend in 2004, Ballmer later said with some annoyance at the Redmond, Washington-based company’s annual analyst meetings that the approach had done nothing to boost the stock.

Since 93 percent of Microsoft’s money is held overseas, it would be subject to taxes if Microsoft brings it back to the U.S. to step up dividends and buybacks. Microsoft repurchased $2.89 billion worth of its shares in the most recent quarter.

Ballmer also said in yesterday’s tweet that Hood “was right in citing superior prospects, profits, esp(cially) vs. other tech cos.”

Ballmer, who bought the Los Angeles Clippers and is now spending his time overseeing the basketball team, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment on Microsoft’s use of cash. Microsoft confirmed that the Twitter account is his.

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