The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) have recovered impressively from the financial crisis over the past five years, and the economy has returned to a modest expansionary mode. But increasingly, companies are finding it difficult to keep their revenue rising, and even though efforts to control costs have in many cases allowed those companies to boost their earnings, rising margins will only carry a stock so far in the long run.
With that in mind and using data from S&P Capital IQ, let's look at the two Dow stocks that have posted the most revenue growth, comparing sales over the past 12 months with those of the previous 12-month period. What's particularly surprising is that only two of the Dow 30 manage to top the 10% mark: Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Visa (NYSE:V).
Microsoft's place atop this list, with 14.4% revenue growth, is particularly surprising given the popular conception that the tech giant's best days are far behind it. Yet Microsoft has managed to find growth in a number of its segments. In its most recent quarter, for instance, Microsoft's Devices and Consumer segment saw sales rise by 12%, with huge sales of Xbox consoles driving growth, including 1.2 million Xbox One units. Yet Commercial division revenue also posted solid growth of 7%, with Office 365 more than doubling and Windows volume-licensing sales climbing 11%. The challenge that Microsoft faces is making sure that it emphasizes licensed products over hardware and other areas, because licensing offers the best gross margins and allows the most revenue to make its way toward the bottom line. With Microsoft having grown net income by almost 48% using the same time periods as the revenue-growth calculation, it appears that the tech giant is positioning itself for nice profit gains as well.
Visa's 12.8% revenue growth has produced much larger earnings gains, with net income having more than doubled. Investors have been concerned about the slowing pace of that revenue growth, though, with Visa's most recent quarterly results showing constant-currency revenue gains of just 9% year-over-year. For the most part, Visa has seen similar contributions from all of its segments, which include service, data processing, and other areas like Visa's European operations. Visa projected that full-year earnings growth would slow to 10% to 11%, but even at that lower rate, Visa is poised to outpace almost all of its Dow counterparts. Moreover, if the dollar starts to weaken against foreign currencies, it could create a revenue tailwind for the card giant that could boost unadjusted revenue even further.
Revenue is the lifeblood of every business, and it's important for companies to make the most of their opportunities to bring cash in. So far, Microsoft and Visa have done a good job recently of boosting their revenue, but they'll need to keep working hard in order to keep that growth from eroding.
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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Visa and owns shares of Microsoft and Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.