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ECONOMICS REPORT - Good Times, Bad Times: Microsoft and Yukos - 2004-07-30

Broadcast: July 30, 2004

This is Bob Doughty with the VOA Special English Economics Report.

Investors take a risk when they buy shares of ownership in a company. Shareholders could lose their investment if the company does not have enough money. But what happens if a company has more money than it needs? Both situations have current examples. One involves the Russian oil company Yukos. The other involves Microsoft.

The American company makes the operating systems used on more than ninety percent of personal computers. It has fifty-six thousand million dollars saved in the bank. The company has been under pressure to return some of that money to its investors.

So last week Microsoft announced a plan to make a one-time payment to its shareholders of three dollars per share. Microsoft will pay out thirty-two thousand million dollars. This will be the largest such payout by any company.

The largest shareholder in Microsoft is its chairman, Bill Gates. He will get three thousand million dollars. He has promised to give that to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support its health and education programs. He is already the richest man in the world.

Microsoft also plans to increase it regular dividend payments to shareholders. And it says it will buy back thirty thousand million dollars of its stock over the next four years. The stock price has not changed much in the last few years. A reduction in shares on the market should increase the value for investors.

But there was more bad news this week for investors in Russia's biggest oil company. Share prices fell after reports of a possible production halt linked to efforts by court officers to collect a huge debt. Oil prices rose. Yukos produces two percent of the world's oil.

The Russian government says the company owes as much as ten thousand-million dollars in taxes. The government has threatened to sell the most productive part of Yukos.

Yukos officials are also in trouble. The biggest shareholder, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is in jail. Supporters say charges of financial crimes are part of a government campaign against him. Mister Khodorkovsky is Russia's richest man. He could face a possible sentence of ten years in prison.

Last Friday, a group of investors based in Britain offered to pay the debts of Yukos. The group is seeking control of the company. Yukos shares are traded in Britain, Germany, Russia and the United States.

This VOA Special English Economics Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Bob Doughty.