3 of the Week's Biggest Surprises

Say what you want about the tech sector, but it's never boring. Any given week will keep tech investors flooded with product announcements, earnings surprises, and crazy strategy shifts that absolutely nobody saw coming.

These are three of the most shocking pieces of tech news this week.

Surprise, surprise! Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

1 . Is there a bidding war brewing over Dell?
Dell (UNKNOWN: DELL.DL  ) has a firm buyout offer in hand from none other than founder, Chairman, and CEO Michael Dell. But if you thought that the computer maker's fate was all sewn up, you thought wrong.

Activist investor Carl Icahn emerged with an alternative plan this week. He bought 100 million shares to build a 6% ownership stake in the company and asked Dell's board of directors to issue a huge $9 dividend per share if Michael Dell's offer falls through. A payout this big would require Dell to raise cash by taking on $5.3 billion of new debt, which classifies Icahn's proposal as a leveraged recapitalization.

The proposed action keeps Dell on the open market and values the company at nearly $40 billion -- a 67% premium over the existing offer. It's been a while since Dell fetched a market cap of that caliber. Dell's special committee takes the idea seriously and promised to "secure the best result for Dellas public shareholders -- whether that is the announced transaction or an alternative."

DELL Market Cap Chart

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Icahn's involvement is a minor surprise, if only because the guy seems awfully busy with large bets on digital entertainment and herbal diet shakes right now. But the size, the scale, the sheer magnitude of Icahn's proposal pushes his idea right into shock-and-awe territory. I did not see this one coming.

2. Pandora is alive!
Internet-radio maven Pandora Media (NYSE: P  ) delivered a strong fourth-quarter report on Thursday night, sending shares on a 25% rocket ride the next day. The intraday highs of $14.70 per share have not been seen since November 2011.

The report was packed with good news:

  • Total revenue jumped 54% year over year, beating both Wall Street's estimates and management's own guidance.

  • Mobile advertising sales expanded faster than mobile listening hours, showing a newfound ability to monetize Pandora's sweet sounds on the go. The mobile market is crucial to Pandora's financial health, because that's where most of its users like to play.

  • On the bottom line, the adjusted net loss of $0.04 per share was smaller than either management or analysts had expected.

The company is turning a corner right here, and the future is so bright, CEO Joe Kennedy's gotta wear shades ... as he lounges by the pool, free from the everyday drudgery of running a digital media business. You see, the longtime CEO also announced his plan to retire later this year.

The large earnings surprise would have been enough to land Pandora on this list, but Kennedy's exit turns the shock value up by several magnitudes. Why leave when the company is doing so well? Rumor has it that both Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) are collecting content licenses as they prepare to launch their own Pandora-style services. With two online media giants gearing up to steal Pandora's thunder, ad sales, and customers, maybe Joe Kennedy just couldn't handle the heat?

The truth is a bit less exciting, of course. This is an orderly transition, not a scorched-earth rout. Kennedy will remain as chairman of the board, and he said that he's "excited to continue to lead the company" until a suitable successor has been named -- "no matter how much time that process takes." But he also said that "it's time to get to a recharging station sooner than later."

Sounds like a case of the Mondays on an epic scale. Joe Kennedy fought for his newfangled music-distribution model for nearly 10 years, and the opposition doesn't always fight fair. He ran everything from overall strategy to nitty-gritty day-to-day operations. Give the guy a vacation.

3. Gigabit fiber in every state!
You know the gigabit fiber network that Google is building in Kansas City (both Kansas and Missouri)? The one where you can get a network so fast that your computer might not keep up, for just $70 a month? FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to provide that kind of disruptive networking all over the country -- and fast.

Genachowski fielded press questions in a Bloomberg interview this week when an intrepid reporter asked this incisive question:

"When he hear from the CEO of Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC  ) who says customers don't actually want that ultra-high-speed that they have in Kansas City, should we believe that?"

The chairman gave nods to other gigabit initiatives across the country but said that more is needed. Why? Because he wants "a critical mass of 1-gigabit communities in the U.S., at least 1 gigabit in every state, by 2015."

To be clear, Genachowski is talking about consumer-level services. Businesses everywhere can already access ultra-fast networks pretty much anywhere, but they have to pay out the nose for fiber rolls and customized service packages. The disruptive idea here is in true high-speed services at affordable price points.

"That's what will attract innovators to develop next-generation products here in the U.S., launch them here in the U.S., drive private investment, drive jobs," Genachowsky said. "This is really a bet on if we build it, innovators will come. That's been the story of American technology."

Bold words, indeed. I, for one, hope the FCC chairman's support turns up the heat on cable companies and telecoms everywhere to realize this vision.

Pandora has won millions of devotees among music fans but few supporters on Wall Street. The online jukebox seems to be redefining the way we consume music, a transformation that's only likely to grow. But high royalty rates and competition from all corners threaten to silence the company. Can Pandora translate success with its listeners into a prosperous business model that will deliver for investors? Learn about the key opportunities and potential pitfalls facing the upstart radio streamer in The Motley Fool's new premium research report. All you have to do is click here now to subscribe to this invaluable investor's resource.


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  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2013, at 3:54 PM, davaidesign wrote:

    Oh wow! Cats are invading the Fool. Can I haz financial news? Y u no have dogs?

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