The newswires are littered with various nuggets of news on Microsoft today. First, Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock to neutral from buy, expressing concern over slowing sales in a tenuous economy. Covering analyst Kash Rangan told clients that Software spending is a discretionary item that could be trimmed if the U.S. economy were to enter a recession. The broker also reduced its rating on Oracle (ORCL) to neutral from buy. Heading into today, MSFT boasted 9 strong buy ratings, 5 buys, 4 holds, and zero sells to speak of.

Elsewhere, news hit the Street that MSFT Chairman Bill Gates sold $72 million worth of his company stock last Wednesday. This amounts to about 2 million shares at an average price of $35.91.

Moving down the newswire, MSFT unveiled new virtualization products for its Windows server 2008 as well as some customizable options for the Zune music player. Finally, the Seattle software giant announced plans to purchase Musicwave SA, a division of Openwave Systems (OPWV). Financial terms were not made public.

All of this news mashed together has netted a slightly negative impact on MSFT shares, which are trading 0.8% lower today. After hitting a new annual high on November 2 (2 Friday ago), the stock began to backpedal lower. Today's move has taken the stock back below its 20-day moving average for the first time since mid-September.