Microsoft: To track, or not to track?

Company executives say they are "reviewing" splitting off Microsof'ts Internet holdings as a separate tracking stock but hedge on a timetable for disclosure of such a plan.

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Microsoft executives today said the company is "reviewing" a plan to split off its Internet holdings as a separate tracking stock but hedged on a timetable.

In a conference call discussing the company's fiscal fourth-quarter earnings, executives made note of widespread "speculation" concerning the creation of a tracking stock, or "structure," as chief financial officer Greg Maffei characterized it. But Maffei and others gave no indication of the company's plans would be for such an offering.

Under the rumored proposal, Microsoft would separate its various Internet holdings--such as its Hotmail free email service and Expedia online travel booking site--into a separate issue to bolster their value and possibly use as currency for acquisitions.

"We are reviewing such a structure but have no imminent plans to announce such a structure," Maffei said during the company's announcement of year-end earnings today.

In response to a question concerning the tracking stock scenario, Maffei said, "I don't want to be any more specific."

In creating such a stock, Microsoft would potentially be able to reap the high value currently associated with Internet-related offerings and could attract an executive to run the series of sites--an elusive search that has turned up no one after eight months.

Some reports have pegged announcement of a tracking stock for the company's MSN businesses for Thursday of this week, when the financial analyst community will gather in Seattle to be briefed on the state of the company.

Microsoft shed a portion of its Internet sites earlier today, trading the city guide portion of MSN Sidewalk for stock and warrants in Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch. (See related story)