How Microsoft and Netflix Dominated Earnings Last Week

As we head into the final week of January, earnings season for many of the world's largest and most important technology companies is in full swing.

Last week, several of tech's biggest names reported, and this week several must-watch names report as well.

In today's frantic 24-hour news cycle, it's important for investors to keep earnings season in its proper context – a snapshot of how a business is doing at a particular moment in time. Of course, this is useful to investors everywhere. But it's also worth emphasizing that one positive or negative quarter will rarely make or break years of investing in a given company.

So keeping that in mind, I want to highlight two names that surprised me last week in reporting numbers far beyond what I, or nearly anyone else, expected.

No.1: Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  )
Like many, I'd gone into Microsoft's report last Thursday with reasonably low expectations for the software giant.

However, Microsoft once again followed its solid earnings beat from FY '14 Q1 with another impressive performance in FY '14 Q2 .

 

Q4 '13 Reported

Q4 '13 Expected

% Difference

Revenue

$24.5 billion

$23.7 billion

3.4%

Earnings per share

$0.78

$0.68

14.7%

Sources: Microsoft Investor Relations, Yahoo!Finance, Cap IQ

And in digging beneath the surface, a number of interesting trends emerge at Microsoft.

For starters, Microsoft's enterprise business managed a surprisingly strong quarter, with commercial licensing growing 7.4% to $10.9 billion . The strength in this segment comes as particularly surprising since we've seen an overall weak climate for corporate IT spending and a weak PC market on the whole.

Source: Microsoft

Another bright spot came from Microsoft's Devices and Consumer Hardware division, where sales grew 69%. Microsoft attributed success here to the combined tailwinds of strong Xbox One sales during the holiday period along with increased Surface sales.

Overall, Microsoft simply shot the lights out this quarter. I'm somewhat still skeptical of its long-term positioning in the mobile market, but the company reported actively working to create new inroads for itself in both the smartphone and tablet space.

This storyline will be evolving for the next several years at Microsoft. But, at least this week, Microsoft proved its doubters wrong.

No. 2: Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX  )
Unlike Microsoft, Netflix came into last week's earnings report facing lofty expectations and an even more ebullient stock price. And true to form, Netflix once again defied expectations on the top and bottom lines.

 

Q4 '13 Reported

Q4 '13 Expected

% Difference

Revenue

$1.18 billion

$1.16 billion

1.7%

Earnings per share

$0.79

$0.66

19.7%

Sources: Netflix Investor Relations, Yahoo!Finance, Cap IQ

It's hard overstate just how dominant Netflix has become over the last three years. Having broken new ground with its push into high-quality, original programming, Netflix is arguably best classified as a premium television network of its own, along the lines of HBO or Showtime, rather than an online streaming service. However, Netflix dominates those services with 44 million subscribers at the end of 2013 to HBO's roughly 29 million subs. 

And having established a dominant foothold in the online media space and additional original content set to premier in the year ahead, Netflix appears likely to shift its focus toward further monetizing its content-hungry user base.

Netflix has been experimenting with a number of potential moves that would boost

Source: Netflix

its subscription fees. Netflix has quietly introduced family plans that offer concurrent streaming across 4 screens for $11.99 and single screen plans for $6.99. Netflix also recently increased its subscriber feeds in Ireland to 7.99 euros (US $10.49), but delayed the fee bump for two years for existing subscribers.

Few of these changes have gone to effect Netflix's core U.S. streaming subscriber base. However, each of these story lines gives the sense that Netflix is working behind the scenes in a wider push to eventually increase fees across all of its subscribers.

Foolish bottom line
Both Microsoft and Netflix stole the show last week, and their stocks earned much-deserved bumps in the wake of their respective reports.

This week will see the attention shift to another host of high-profile tech names, so make sure to check back with the Fool for our ongoing coverage of earnings season this week.

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