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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (Chris Graythen/2009 Getty Images)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (Chris Graythen/2009 Getty Images)

Microsoft Windows sales slip, shares down Add to ...

Microsoft Corp. reported a dip in quarterly sales of its core Windows operating system, mirroring a recent downturn in personal computers and sending its shares down slightly.



The world's largest software company met Wall Street profit estimates after strong sales of its Office suite of applications and Xbox game systems took up the slack.

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But its stock has waned in past weeks, spooked by a dip in PC sales -- which generate most of its revenue -- and by fears the Apple Inc. iPad and other mobile devices will eventually erode the PC business.



Microsoft's shares fell 2 per cent to $26.15 in after-hours trading following the earnings report on Thursday.



"Microsoft to me is no longer a growth stock, but it is a very attractive value stock. They continue to generate tremendous free cash flow. Their balance sheet is really unmatched," said Channing Smith, co-manager of the Capital Advisors Growth Fund.



"What you will begin to see is a shift away from growth investors. You are seeing that transition where Microsoft is in no man's land, but I think they will become increasingly more attractive to value investors."



Microsoft has sold a record-breaking 350 million licenses for its Windows 7 operating system since launching it 18 months ago, but demand appears to be waning in an uncertain economy.



PC sales -- the most reliable indicator of Microsoft's financial success -- fell 1 per cent in the first three months of the year, according to one research firm.



CFO Peter Klein told Reuters in a phone interview the company expects corporate spending on PCs to outpace consumer PC sales through the next 12 months. He acknowledged that sales of low-end netbooks were suffering particularly, partly because of the success of tablets and other mobile devices.



"The concern is PC markets are being disrupted. There's some validity," said BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis. "But it's also overblown when you factor in that Windows 7 is the fastest-selling OS in history."



CAN DO WRONG?



The company co-founded by billionaire Bill Gates has exceeded Wall Street's expectations in seven straight quarters -- but its stock remains at 2001 levels. Investors fear that new gadgets, led by the iPad, are the thin end of the wedge that will one day separate Microsoft from its core customers.



Microsoft shares are down 14 per cent over the past 12 months, compared with a 16 per cent gain in the Nasdaq.



Longer term, some see the new devices as unleashing a genie that Microsoft may never be able to put back in the bottle.



Microsoft notched a 31 per cent increase in fiscal third-quarter net profit, reporting $5.2 billion, or 61 cents per share, compared with $4 billion, or 45 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. Five cents per share of that profit was attributed to a one-time tax benefit.



Excluding the tax benefit, profit met the 56 cents expected by Wall Street analysts, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.



Despite the dip in the Windows unit, overall sales rose 13 per cent to $16.4 billion, ahead of the $16.2 billion expected by analysts, helped by sales of Office and its Xbox game system and Kinect add-on.



Microsoft stock is now trading at 9.6 times expected earnings for the next 12 months. That is half the stock's 10-year average and below the 13 times average for major tech companies.



Even its 2.5 per cent dividend yield, which lags only Intel Corp's among big tech, is not enough to persuade investors to change their outlook.



"The question to ask is: is there any product line in Microsoft that they are not playing catch-up on?" asked Trip Chowdhry at Global Equities Research

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