Hedge fund star calls for Microsoft's Ballmer to go

NEW YORK Wed May 25, 2011 7:51pm EDT

Microsoft Corporation Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer gestures during the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York, March 19, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Microsoft Corporation Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer gestures during the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York, March 19, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Influential hedge fund manager David Einhorn has called for Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to step down, saying the world's largest software company's long-time leader is stuck in the past.

Microsoft, which was the largest U.S. company by market value in the late 1990s, has seen its stock stand still for the past 10 years as it failed to attack new Internet and mobile computing markets, surrendering leadership of the tech sector to Apple Inc.

Microsoft shares shot up 0.87 percent in after-hours trading, the most of any Dow Jones industrial average component.

Many have been privately critical of Ballmer, but Einhorn's remarks are the most pointed yet from a high-profile investor.

Einhorn's Greenlight Capital hedge fund has been a recent buyer of Microsoft stock, which at under 10 times expected earnings is regarded by many as undervalued.

Greenlight currently holds about 9 million shares in Microsoft, or 0.11 percent of the company's outstanding shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Speaking at the annual Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference in New York on Wednesday, Einhorn said it was time for Ballmer -- who succeeded co-founder Bill Gates in 2000 -- to step aside and "give someone else a chance."

"His continued presence is the biggest overhang on Microsoft's stock," he said.

On Tuesday, Microsoft was overtaken by IBM in market value for the first time in 15 years, chiefly because of its static shares. Apple roared past it last year to become the world's most valuable tech company.

An investor who put $100,000 into Microsoft stock 10 years ago would now have about $69,000 worth.

Einhorn, the president of Greenlight Capital, which had $7.8 billion of assets as of January 1, first rose to prominence for making a prescient call on Lehman Brothers' accounting troubles before the bank's subsequent collapse.

Shares of Microsoft edged up 0.87 percent to $24.40 in afterhours trade from a regular-session close of $24.19.

(Reporting by Bill Rigby, Svea Herbst and Edwin Chan; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Lisa Shumaker)

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