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July 24, 2008 10:00 AM

Microsoft-Yahoo deal: The Obama factor ending it?

Posted by Brier Dudley

Interesting tidbit from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's presentation at today's analyst meeting; The Yahoo deal made sense if the regulatory reviews could be done before the federal administration changed.

Ballmer didn't say that the current administration is more sympathetic to Microsoft than the next one will be, although of course it was under the Bush adminstration that Microsoft's U.S. antitrust issues were largely resolved.

It may be a different story under Obama and even McCain, if Google and Yahoo successfully recycle the 1990s Silicon Valley storyline and cast themselves as the populist characters in a regulatory showdown with Microsoft.

Ballmer's probably being practical, not political. Changes in administration mean changes in regulatory bodies and approaches, which could prolong the review process and leave a Microsoft-Yahoo merger in limbo for too long. Especially if incoming regulators hope to make their mark scrutinizing such a high-profile deal.

(This implies that there will be a change in the regulatory administration; Would McCain dramatically change things at the FTC and DOJ, or is the assumption that Obama will win and shuffle the agencies?)

A change in European Union administration was also a concern that Ballmer mentioned:

"We wanted to get regulatory review in without adminstrative shifts in Europe and the U.S.,'' he said.

Ballmer said this in context of explaining what made Yahoo attractive. His tone -- and the looming election -- suggest that Yahoo's not attractive to him anymore.

"Yahoo for us was always a tactic, not a strategy," he said (a point in this column)

"At the right price and with the right speed of operation, it was a heckuva a good tactic," Ballmer said. "At the wrong price and if it had to stretch out over two adminsitrations, regulatory review, blah blah blah, it was not a good tactic."

Note the tense -- the deal was, not is.

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