Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging the Microsoft Earnings Call: Glum Chris at the Recessiondome

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Well, despite the news being as bad at Microsoft as it was at Yahoo (YHOO) earlier this week, the conference call after the software giant released its third-quarter earnings was 100 percent less naughty and 200 percent more glum.

In other words, while there were no F-bombs dropped, there were lots of E-bombs–as in econalypse.

Microsoft’s earnings and revenue took a big hit in its third quarter, with profits down 32 percent from a year ago on a six percent sales decline.

It was the company’s first-ever year-over-year quarterly sales drop.

There were also more than $700 million in charges from layoffs and investment declines, both a result of the weak economy. The culprit for most of the bad news was the decline in consumer and business spending on computers.

And Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell did not even bother to act as if there was any hope, painting a semi-apocalyptic picture of the business landscape that he predicted was not going to get better anytime soon.

Here’s BoomTown’s liveblogging of the call:

2:34 p.m. PDT: The call starts after some very stern marshal music was played. This turns out to be the perfect mood-setter.

First up, the investor relations guy who talks about all the rules, like those folks who come on after, say, a Viagra commercial and quickly list the scary side effects.

But scary was what Liddell was serving up from the get-go, as he pretty much spent the entire conference call talking about just how bad the economy has been, is and will be.

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What’s most disconcerting perhaps is the fact that he was delivering the bad news in a cute-as-a-kiwi New Zealand accent.

Nonetheless, Liddell said the company had had to “adapt to a new reality” and that Microsoft was “more cautious than most about the state of the world economy” and–let’s not forget–the “economic pressures are both broad and deep.”

Liddell also noted that the recovery will not happen quickly, but be “slow and gradual.”

Perhaps this is not the right time to mention that both Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL) essentially killed in their recent earnings reports.

2:38 p.m.: Microsoft’s investor relations head Bill Koefoed–without any jaunty inflection whatsoever–delivered the numbers in that droning way that all financial types who deliver numbers on calls like this do.

My assistant, Ed, actually fell into a temporary coma from across the room.

Basic message of numbers: Bad.

2:54 p.m.: Back to Liddell for some forward-looking stuff.

Also not good, with consumer sentiment and spending weak, he said, there would be “significant pressure until market conditions improve.”

“In summary, it was a tough quarter,” reiterated Liddell, restating what he already stated and stated again. And then restated.

2:59 p.m.: Now to questions! Maybe things will look up here.

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But…nope!

Thus, more worries about Microsoft’s growth, a weakness in sales and even some clucking over renewal rates of its operating system software licenses.

Then someone noted that it seemed as if Microsoft at least had its “arms around” the problems.

Would Liddell show any glimmer of hope?

“I guess we are all learning… how do I feel about the shape of the quarter [to come]?” he pondered.

Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it. Said Liddell, the sad-sack CFO: “I do not see anything that gives me any encouragement.”

Big, big sigh.

3:16 p.m.: Someone asked about one remark Liddell made about some “countercyclical” products, which might be bright spots in the Microsoft empire.

Indeed, new versions of the Windows operating system, Office, Exchange and its search offering are all set to come out in the next year.

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Will they be gamechangers? Liddell was not saying, of course.

Finally, at the end, after a question about stock repurchases, there was some light at the end of the tunnel.

No matter what, Microsoft is still a cash-spewing engine.

“One of the great positives,” said Liddell was the company’s free cash flow of $20 billion, at an annual rate.

In other words, there is nothing like money stuffed under the mattress in times like these.


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— Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, in their farewell D post