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Pros say Microsoft investors may want to reconsider

Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 | 4:52 PM ET
Steve Ballmer
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Steve Ballmer

The move by Microsoft to buy Nokia's mobile phone business for almost $7.2 billion may cause some investors to jump ship—and for good reason, experts said Tuesday.

(Read more: Microsoft and Nokia are both dumb about smartphones )

"I guess we are going to really have to do some soul-searching here to see if we really want to own a phone company," said Kim Forrest, vice president and portfolio manager of Fort Pitt Capital Group, which owns about 650,000 shares of Microsoft. "We've taken a pretty dim view of the makers of phones over the years. We have not really owned anybody in this space."

(Read more: Sell Nokia on Microsoft deal, says Jim Cramer )

The tech giant announced that it was restructuring in July, emphasizing "one Microsoft" that would push more into devices.

(Read more: Will Microsoft investors win from shake-up?)

Deal with Microsoft sends Nokia higher
Kim Forrest of Fort Pitt Capital Group assesses Nokia's $7 billion dollar deal with Microsoft.

"This really does show that they want to become a devices company and anyone that holds this stock thinking it was a software company has to really think long and hard about where this company's going," Forrest said.

Microsoft is primarily viewed as an enterprise software company, despite its efforts to move into devices, she said. If the company wants investors to get behind that idea, it needs to pitch the move to shareholders as something that will ultimately serve the enterprise business, she said.

Even then, there's not much to get excited about, said Brendan Barnicle, a senior research analyst at Pacific Crest Securities.

"This is a danger still for Microsoft, and I'm very skeptical if it's going to work out," Barnicle said. "I think what you are really seeing is Microsoft buying a new OEM partner to keep its Windows business afloat."

The company has a solid history of developing software, a high-margin business. But it appears as if Microsoft sees getting into devices and services—both much lower margin—as the only way to stay in software. That changes investors' view of the company, Barnicle said.

"If that's the profile of what this company is going to look like, I think it's going to be very hard to get a lot of investors very excited," he said.

Blame the board

Microsoft's 'dangerous' deal
Brendan Barnicle of Pacific Crest Securities addresses whether Microsoft had to buy a hardware company to keep its Windows business relevant and calls it a risky deal for the software giant.

Another problem is the timing of the deal. Microsoft recently announced that CEO Steve Ballmer will be leaving within a year. A replacement has not been named.

(Read more: Microsoft CEO Ballmer to step down within 12 months)

"That's the superinteresting thing about the timing of this," Forrest said. "This certainly feels like it would have been something you would have left to the next person that's going to run Microsoft, and yet here we go making a major acquisition."

The stock got a big boost when news of Ballmer's departure broke over a week ago, but its share price was down more than 5 percent during afternoon trading Tuesday after reports of the Nokia agreement.

It indicates that even with Ballmer out, bad decisions will be made because the board is still in place, according to the experts.

"Fundamentally, this is the board's call and it has been for a while," Barnicle said. "It was the board's call to keep Steve there for this long, and it has been the board's call to go ahead and make this kind of deal," Barnicle said. "The board has a very different view of where IT is going than I think a lot of tech investors do."

Microsoft's Manchurian Candidate not fit for CEO

While Microsoft has not named any CEO candidates, there has been plenty of speculation about who will be up next. With the Nokia announcement, a big contingent has the most likely candidate as Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec and current Nokia CEO—and what some are calling Microsoft's very own Manchurian Candidate.

(Read more: Microsoft's next CEO isn't who you think )

It's posited that Elop left his job as head of Microsoft's business division in 2010 to head up Nokia and prep the company for an eventual takeover. The theory then was that he would use that position to contract sweetheart deals for Microsoft.

While his reasons for joining Nokia remain hypothetical, there is reason to believe that his return to Microsoft will result in his replacing Ballmer, according to analysts and industry professionals.

Elop will be stepping down at Nokia when the transaction is considered for approval to avoid a conflict of interest, the company said. But the Microsoft board has said that it wants someone who understands its business, as well as devices, and Elop fits those qualifications.

"I think you have to assume he is in the lead if you think about what the board has talked about," Barnicle said. But just because Elop meets those requirements doesn't mean he is the best leader for the company, he added.

"I don't think he brings the real strategic change and innovation that you really need at Microsoft," Barnicle said. "And the hopes that folks had that there might be some big restructuring that might unlock a bunch of shareholder value—you've got to assume that's off the table with this move."

By CNBC's Cadie Thompson. Follow her on Twitter @CadieThompson.

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  • Matt Hunter is the senior technology editor at CNBC.com.

  • Cadie Thompson is a tech reporter for the Enterprise Team for CNBC.com.

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.

  • Jon Fortt is an on-air editor. He covers the companies, start-ups, and trends that are driving innovation in the industry.

  • Lipton is CNBC's technology correspondent, working from CNBC's Silicon Valley bureau.

  • Mark is CNBC's Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bureau Chief covering technology and digital media.