THE DAY AHEAD: Expedia may start spin-off phase for Microsoft

Larry Dignan
3 min read

It's no surprise shareholders gave Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) a standing ovation Wednesday -- shares are stuck in a holding pattern and the company still brings home the bucks by spinning off Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE) in an IPO. If Expedia's success is any indicator, you'll be seeing a lot more spin-offs from Microsoft.

Shares of Expedia jumped nearly 300 percent Wednesday as investors clamored to get an IPO stake of the Second Coming of Microsoft. Of course, Expedia is anything but the next Microsoft of online travel because it faces a lot of competition, but you never know.

Microsoft: More spin-offs coming?

Expedia as a stand-alone company is only moderately impressive, but the first day gains are likely to trigger more Microsoft spin-offs. In fact, there are so many potential IPO candidates in Redmond that the company could break itself up before the Department of Justice ever gets a chance to do it. See ZDNet Microsoft Special Report.)

Why not just make Microsoft a holding company for a stable of Baby Bills? The company made a nice chunk of change by selling the Sidewalk local guides to Ticketmaster-CitySearch (Nasdaq: TMCS) and should continue going the spin-off/sale route.

With that in mind, here's our list of most-likely Microsoft spin-offs.

MSN.com -- the portal. MSN on the Web would make a nice spin-off and could command a Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO) market cap in quick fashion if it's kept together. MSN is the third largest site on the Web in terms of unique users and reach.

MSN.com -- the parts. What's Expedia? Just a section of MSN.com that investors were willing to buy at more than $50 a share. Following that logic, Microsoft could just auction off each section of MSN. MoneyCentral could be a fine competitor for TheStreet.com (Nasdaq: TSCM) or MarketWatch.com (Nasdaq: MKTW).

CarPoint, MSN's online automotive service, is the most likely spin-off part of the bunch. CarPoint is partnered with Ford Motor to create the first build-to-order car-buying system, scheduled to debut early in 2000. CarPoint would compete with Autobytel.com (Nasdaq: ABTL) and Autoweb.com (Nasdaq: AWEB).

Homeadvisor.com, another Microsoft creation, would compete with Homestore.com (Nasdaq: HOMS), which has made a nice splash as public company.

MSN the Internet service provider. Does Microsoft really want to be in the ISP business? Following the EarthLink (Nasdaq: ELNK) and MindSpring (Nasdaq: MSPG) merger, MSN the ISP will be in third place in terms of subscribers. Microsoft tried to tackle America Online (NYSE: AOL) and lost. Best bet here would be to package with MSN.com in an IPO, but the company could also sell it to an ISP looking to grow.

WebTV. Question marks abound about where this unit is going. Success of the enterprise has been so-so, but if it can refashion itself as a broadband toll collector, there's no reason it couldn't be spun off.

MSNBC. This 50-50 joint venture with General Electric's NBC could definitely be spun out in some fashion. Of course NBC and Microsoft would have to split the proceeds and Bill Gates isn't known for sharing profits.

Non-productivity software. Microsoft Office gets the press and brings home the profits, but there's a thriving software business that focuses on education and entertainment. The unit in itself could be a stand-alone company. The headliner of this group is Microsoft's Flight Simulator game.

And that's just a start. Microsoft could spin off the units mentioned above without any encouragement from antitrust lawyers. Microsoft officials at a shareholder meeting on Wednesday said they would fight a government sanctioned break-up for the big stuff -- Office, Windows, NT, and other software applications.

And Microsoft should fight considering the synergies with Office, Windows, SQL, NT, and other software applications. As for other startups funded by Windows and Office profits, it could definitely be spin-off time.