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Is Dell Stealing Dell?

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Critics are arguing that Michael Dell and his investors are offering an overly cheap bid for the computer maker.

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I've taken to confessing quite a bit via my writing so far this year. I've talked about my realization that I'm probably not that special and the dumb trading decisions I made throughout 2012.

Now I'm moving on to my brief stint with cybercrime back in 1993.

In those days, America Online (NYSE:AOL) was the Internet provider for most people, but it was tremendously expensive. America Online charged by the hour, and I knew friends and families who were racking up $600+ monthly bills. My mother would have punched me in the face if such a bill showed up at our house, so through a friend, I obtained a piece of software called AOHell, which could trick the AOL system into creating a fake account.

To some extent, AOL was what got non-nerds buying computers.

And the hot computer in those days was from then-Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) darling Dell (NASDAQ:DELL).

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was strictly for graphic designers, desktop publishers, and assorted weirdos that seemed to derive their self-worth from the rarity of their computer choice.

Dell rode the back of the Internet boom and its ahead-of-its-time supply chain to financial glory. During that heady decade, the stock price rose an astounding 88,000%.

Since then, a variety of circumstances, including the death of the dot-com bubble, the resurrection of Apple, and a shift in spending toward mobile devices, have seemingly put Dell down for the count.

And this week, we learned that Dell -- a stock that made many millionaires -- may be coming to the end of its life as a public company after founder Michael Dell, along with a group of investors, is offering to take the company private at a price of $13.65 per share. That's a whopping 77% discount from the all-time high of $59.69 in March 2000.

Some critics are arguing that Dell and his investors are about to take the company for a bargain-basement price that was only made possible by the company's poor management decisions over the past few years.

This is all a bit silly.

Here's how I think about the situation:

If you've owned Dell stock for years and didn't like the way things were going, 1) you should have been out a long time ago, and 2) the stock's up over 30% year-to-date, something that would not have happened without this bid for the company.

And maybe Dell and his crew are getting the company at a cheap price, but they won't have an easy go of it. The Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 PC cycle is getting off to a very, very slow start. In Q4 of 2009, PC sales rose 22% with the release of Windows 7, according to Gartner. But in Q4 of 2012, PC sales dropped 4.9%, following an 8.3% decline in Q3 when Windows 8 was released.

Additionally, Dell doesn't have much going for it in the two electronics categories that matter -- and which happen to be disrupting its PC business -- smartphones and tablets.

So maybe they'll strike it rich, but there's an equal chance they'll strike out.

This is one of those times where a piece of merchandise is cheap for a very good reason.

Twitter: @MichaelComeau

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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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