Microsoft puts positive spin on sales drop

Executives at an analyst conference argued that the company's performance has been relatively good

Microsoft executives put a rosy glow on the company's prospects and performance at the company's annual financial analysts meeting, despite a recent quarterly report that fell short of revenue expectations by US$1 billion.

"I can't say it's good. We're still down. But on a relative basis, it was a reasonable year, given the context of the environment," said Chris Liddell, Microsoft's chief financial officer.

Last week, Microsoft reported fourth-quarter revenue of US$13.1 billion, while analysts were expecting $14.37 billion.

Liddell and CEO Steve Ballmer tried to distinguish between the aspects of the company's performance that it could control and those it could not. For example, the numbers of PCs that consumers buy is out of Microsoft's control, Ballmer said.

But the company did well in areas that it can control, such as managing operating expenses, Liddell said. "We had great discipline around things that we can control," he said.

Toward the end of the day, with a handful of the top executives on stage, Ballmer let slip his characteristic exuberance after an analyst asked him for sales guidance. He referred to a recent company sales meeting where "people were pumped, man," about the lineup of new Microsoft products.

"We have great prospects on the map, but I'm not going to give you sales guidance or Chris [Liddell] won't let me come to [the financial analysts meeting] next year," he joked. "But I hope you don't sense a lack of enthusiasm."

His optimism was clear, but what's not yet clear is whether that will translate into improved results at the company.

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