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Microsoft Debt Issuance Makes Zero Economic Sense

Tuesday’s  headline from the WSJ reads: Microsoft Corp. (MSFT)  to offer up to  $1.25 billion in 3-year convertible notes.”

The software company will use the sales proceeds to repay short-term debt. If it was any other company I’d ignore this headline as a daily noise as this kind of things happens all the time. But Microsoft has $39 billion of cash and generates $16-$17 billion of free cash flows a year. Issuing short-term debt, for which Microsoft will surely pay higher interest than it receives on the pile of its cash makes absolutely no economic sense – zero.

Microsoft has $1 and $0.75 billion of debt that matures in 2019 and 2039, respectively. Ironically, though this debt comes with higher interest, it makes sense if the company believes that we’ll have significant inflation and it will be paying off its debt with inflated dollars.

When you are sitting on pile of cash that earns nothing, borrowing short-term (three years is short-term) makes no economic sense. It seems Microsoft finance department suffers from the same problem many investors do, it cannot sit on its hands, it has to do something even if it is losing proposition for the company and shareholders.

Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is a portfolio manager/director of research at Investment Management Associates in Denver, Colo.  He is the author of “Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range-Bound Markets” (Wiley 2007).  To receive Vitaliy’s future articles by email, click here.

Vitaliy Katsenelson

I am the CEO at IMA, which is anything but your average investment firm. (Why? Get our company brochure here, or simply visit our website).

In a brief moment of senility, Forbes magazine called me “the new Benjamin Graham.”

I’ve written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. (I’m working on a third - you can read a chapter from it, titled “The 6 Commandments of Value Investing” here).

And if you prefer listening, audio versions of my articles are published weekly at investor.fm.

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