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Canon wants out of Next

Saying it has little interest in getting into business with Apple, Canon will sell its 20 percent stake in Next Software.

    Saying it has little interest in getting into business with Apple Computer (AAPL), Japanese electronics company Canon (CANNY) will sell its 20 percent stake in Next Software.

    The move was made in response to Apple's plans to acquire Next, announced late last month. The deal--which will bring Apple cofounder and Next president Steve Jobs back to the company, as well as provide the Macintosh with a revamped version of the Next operating system--was initially well received by analysts. Yet, Canon officials in Tokyo said publicly today that it sees a troubled future for Apple.

    A spokesman for Canon USA, the company's U.S. operation, confirmed the plans to sell the stock.

    "Canon retains the rights to use and market selected software developed by Next. However, following the sale, it will no longer be a shareholder in Next," he said, reading from a statement issued by the parent company.

    Apple has seen troubled times in 1996, as its share of the U.S. computer market fell to 6.8 percent for the first nine months, down from 11 percent for the same period in 1995, according to Kevin Hause, an analyst with International Data Corporation.

    Canon said publicly that it will seek payment of unspecified outstanding loans it made to Next. The Japanese manufacturer said it plans to get out of the PC business altogether and focus on the production of computer peripherals such as printers, where it has been successful.

    However, the company will reportedly add nearly two dozen employees to Japanese sales arm Canon Sales Company to sell computers made in Taiwan, Korea, and Southeast Asia, which are sold under the Canon brand.

    Separately, an analyst for brokerage firm Bear Stearns has cut Apple's rating from hold to unattractive. The analyst, Andy Neff, has also suspended his earnings estimate until more information becomes available.

    In addition to concerns about Apple's balance sheet, Neff said the current confusion about the company's operating system and increased competition were factors in his move to cut the company's rating. Previously, he had estimated earnings of $1 in fiscal 1997 and $1.50 in 1998.

    Apple has agreed to pay $400 million for Next in cash, stock, and assumption of the company's debt.