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PeopleSoft ends anti-takeover refund program

A program created to fend off an Oracle acquisition lapses as the Justice Department and the European Commission step up to fight the deal.

PeopleSoft has quietly let expire a customer refund program that it began last year after becoming the target of a hostile buyout attempt by its rival Oracle.

The company's "customer assurance program" is essentially a money-back guarantee that takes effect only if PeopleSoft is acquired. The program, which PeopleSoft started in June, could trigger as much as $1.56 billion in payouts to customers should the company be acquired. That liability potentially drives up the price of PeopleSoft, thus making it less attractive to potential suitors, including Oracle.

Oracle and some shareholders have criticized the program as a management entrenchment tactic that erodes the company's value. PeopleSoft has defended the move as a deterrent to Oracle and its plan to buy PeopleSoft on the cheap and dismantle it.

As originally intended, the program expired Wednesday, coinciding with the close of PeopleSoft's first fiscal quarter, PeopleSoft spokesman Steve Swasey said. The program's discontinuation also comes after the Justice Department filed suit to block Oracle's $9.4 billion bid on the ground that the deal would be anticompetitive. The European Commission has signaled it may block the deal as well.

Oracle is in Brussels this week arguing its case before the European panel. The Redwood Shores, Calif., company is challenging the Justice Department suit as well, with the trial set to begin June 7 in San Francisco.

Despite the continuing fight, the lapse in the refund program may indicate that PeopleSoft is dropping its guard. The firm may also be heeding the advice of two influential shareholder-advisory firms that recently called for an end to the program.

However, the company's board of directors reserves the right reinstate the program, Swasey said.