In my Saturday Night Quarterback post last weekend on my subscription site JubakAm.com, I said that I was looking for Microsoft’s (MSFT) earnings, reported after the close yesterday, July 20, for clues on how the U.S. stock market would react to earnings reports from Alphabet (GOOG) on July 24, Facebook (FB) on July 26, and Amazon (AMZN) on July 27. These stocks, like Microsoft have traded recently near all-time highs. And like Microsoft, they sport huge market caps. The combination of market cap and performance means that these stocks have powered the most recent leg of the rally. And their heavy weighting in the NASDAQ Composite Index and in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index makes it likely that as they stocks go so goes the major market indexes.
So I was looking at what Microsoft would report yesterday and, more importantly, how the market reacted to that report in a hope for clues about next week and the likely short-term direction of the market.
That was my hope anyway.
But both Microsoft and the market disappointed me. And I didn’t get the clues I was hoping for.
Microsoft’s quarterly reports are always hard to parse because of 1) the company’s practice of deferring large parts of its software revenue from quarter to quarter, and 2) the company’s less than transparent reporting on its fast growing cloud business. That customary confusion was made worse this quarter because of a huge tax loss s a result of writing down the failure of its mobile phone business. That tax loss this quarter amounted to $1.8 billion. That’s enough to move the needle on earnings even at a company like Microsoft.
Microsoft’s earnings were 98 cents a share in the June quarter after adjusting results to include deferred revenue from it’s sales of Windows 10 and the big tax benefit. It you take out the tax benefit–which came to 23 cents a share in the quarter–then Microsoft’s earnings were 75 cents a share. Wall Street analysts hadn’t included the tax benefit in their earnings estimate so comparing apples to apples, Microsoft earnings of 75 cents were four cents a share above Wall Street projections of 71 cents a share for the quarter.
That’s a beat–even if not an especially impressive one for a stock trading at 32.56 times trailing 12–month earnings. It’s especially unimpressive when added to the paltry 9.1% growth in revenue from the June quarter of 2016. Yes, I do note, that the $24.70 billion in revenue exceeded Wall Street expectations. But I’d have to say that a stock trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 32 plus does need to do something above and beyond beating Wall Street’s low expectations.
But shares of Microsoft didn’t crater today. They did go down with the shares closing down 0.58% today at $73.79, a few cents below the high set back on July 2 of $74.30.
So why not a bigger and more negative reaction?
Because, I’d argue, investors aren’t buying Microsoft because the its overall cash flow–the combination of its legacy Windows and Office revenue with the revenue from its new cloud businesses–but because of the growth and the growth potential in that cloud business. Microsoft has done an amazing job at moving from seeming irrelevance in the cloud sector to No. 2 in the market behind Amazon’s cloud business. And in that sector Microsoft delivered much more impressive results.
Revenue from the company’s overall Intelligent Cloud business rose 11% year over year to $7.4 billion, or about one-third of the company’s total revenue. And for the first time Microsoft’s revenue from its cloud version of Office–Office 365–exceed revenue from its tradition Office sales.
Even more crucially Microsoft’s Azure cloud service saw revenue jump by 97%. In the conference call Microsoft CFO Amy Hood called out Azure’s results in the quarter. In the quarter Microsoft closed the highest number of multi-million-dollar Azure sales to date, Hood said.
That, plus the 97% growth rate for the Azure unit, was apparently enough to keep investors who know that the cloud is the current Big Thing on board.
In next week’s earnings for Amazon, Facebook, and Google, I’d look to see what kind of growth Amazon reports for its Amazon Web Services (and what Alphabet has to say about its growth in this market.) I’d also look to see how Facebook addresses concerns about how it can keep growing advertising revenue when it seems to be hitting a limit on how many ads it can post on some of its platforms.