Microsoft’s Coming Layoffs?

Published: July 15, 2014

By: Kevin Coogan

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Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, has the markets speculating about its future. In his July 10, 2014 memo entitled Bold Ambition & Our Core he frequently mentions “change” and “focus”. Intertwined in his message is the potential for change so drastic that Microsoft could institute layoffs, an unusual event for the company.

Currently, such speculation is just that, speculation. However certain the markets make things appear, big announcements such as layoffs are historically difficult to predict. There are just so many variables to take into account such as history of layoffs at that company (No, $MSFT does not have a strong history of layoffs), recent acquisitions (Yes, recent purchase of Nokia Oyj’s handset unit), management changes (Yes, new CEO), competitive pressures (Yes, $MSFT feeling intense pressure from a variety of competitors), etc.

Even if you expect Microsoft to announce layoffs, why this week and not in a few quarters? Timing can be extremely difficult to ascertain, even when done by the best analysts and journalists. In this case, a recent Bloomberg article Microsoft to Announce Job Cuts as Soon as This Week clearly states that a layoff announcement will happen very soon. It appears the markets expect quick movement on this.

The above analysis is very traditional. This is how things have been done for decades. Analysts and commentators look at the indications provided by company executives, combine it with some “insider” comments (who always seem to want to remain anonymous, leaving in doubt the reliability of the information) together with some fundamental analysis mentioned above and you have the formula for ripe speculation.

Living in a data driven world, we should be able to improve or at least buttress this analysis. By looking at the trends in job postings on a company level, the probability of layoffs should become apparent.

In Microsoft’s case, its job postings have been trending down for some time. Looking at its trend over the last year, you can clearly see a general trend downwards. In a generally strong job market, this indicator should be seen as relatively negative. Frankly, an analyst with this data prior to the Memo could have logically concluded the potential for layoffs in the near future.

Microsoft Job Postings_memo

 

Perhaps the most telling for our current purposes of verifying a short term announcement for layoffs is the timing of the Memo versus the trend in job postings. The Memo came out on July 10. By July 11, the number of job postings for $MSFT had declined dramatically.

This could be a coincidence, but not likely. The fact that the within a day of the CEO putting forth an implied new direction for the company the HR department culled its job postings is a serious clue of future developments.

If the presumed layoffs were to just focus on the integration of Nokia’s unit, then you would not expect such a sharp decline. It appears from the overall trend of the company’s job postings together with the Memo timing, that layoffs will likely be announced, will be announced somewhat soon, and that they will cover the broader company, as opposed to just one unit.

In terms of relevance of this relatively new data of company-specific job postings, it appears that its usefulness is apparent for fundamental purposes and for timing of / confirming of speculative events.

 

 

 

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