Microsoft bids for Norwegian search engine

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OSLO, Norway -- Microsoft Corp. bid $1.2 billion for the Norwegian search engine company Fast Search & Transfer ASA on Tuesday as it seeks to help companies trawl for information on the Internet.

The offer of $2.97 per share, or 19 kroner, was 42% premium to the Norwegian company's recent average share price, and caused the stock to soar by nearly the same amount in early trading on the Oslo stock exchange. Fast's board unanimously recommended that shareholders accept the offer, a news release said.

Fast, founded in 1997, employs about 500 people, and specializes in high-end Internet search and business intelligence systems now used by many major companies worldwide.

"Enterprise search is becoming an indispensable tool to businesses of all sizes, helping people find, use and share critical business information quickly," Jeff Raikes, president of the Microsoft Business Division, said in a joint news release. "Until now organizations have been forced to choose between powerful, high-end search technologies or more mainstream, infrastructure solutions. The combination of Microsoft and FAST gives customers a new choice: a single vendor with solutions that span the full range of customer needs."

Conditions of the offer include acceptance by at least 90% of Fast's shareholders under the terms of a formal offer to be made next week, the statement from the two companies said. The two largest institutional shareholders, Norway's Orkla ASA and Hermes Focus Asset Management Europe have already accepted the offer, and the companies aim to complete the sale during the second quarter.

Fast's chief executive, John Lervik, said becoming part of Microsoft "gives Fast an exciting way to spread our cutting-edge search technologies and innovations to more and more organizations across the world."

Microsoft shares fell 12 cents to $34.49 at the open of trading Tuesday.
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