What I'm about to do is play devil's advocate.
Too many investors get excited and jump into a stock without comparing and contrasting against other possibilities.
So before buying shares in tech stalwart Microsoft
Microsoft is struggling between protecting its cash-cow franchises (e.g., Office and Windows) and transitioning to cloud computing. The more it protects its legacy business model, the less it can compete in cloud computing. The more it goes toward cloud computing, the more it risks undercutting its current advantages. As a cloud-computing pure play providing virtualization solutions, VMware has no such dilemma. Its adjusted earnings per share grew at 60% last quarter on the strength of this focus. One warning: Its valuation takes at least a good deal of that growth into account.
My colleague Morgan Housel declared recently that "Microsoft may be one of the cheapest stocks out there." From a trailing and forward earnings basis, Corning looks pretty cheap, too. Although its free cash flows aren't nearly as robust, its earnings ratios are sub-10. It dominates the liquid-crystal display (LCD) glass industry, controlling two-thirds of the market. And its Gorilla glass touchscreens for smartphones and tablets are growing sales by leaps.
Microsoft has a huge $31 billion net cash hoard, representing 14% of its market capitalization. Semiconductor testing equipment manufacturer FormFactor is currently unprofitable and is in a turnaround situation with new management, but it has a net cash hoard representing about 80% of its market cap. To be sure, because of the cyclicality of the industry, many semiconductor companies squirrel away cash. Testing competitor Advantest
One area Microsoft has struggled mightily in is its telecom offerings. See its failed Kin experiment for the latest flop. Rather than trying to create the next failed iPhone killer, Qualcomm relies on its immense library of patents to get 4%-5% royalties on each 3G phone sold. Why? Because as my colleague Eric Bleeker points out, "Qualcomm has patented the technology behind every 3G data network in the world." And it's well-positioned for 4G. That's why he picked it as our very first "11 O'Clock Stock."
Think Microsoft is cheap? Legendary investor Bill Miller is convinced that IBM is the most remarkably mispriced name in the market. Like Microsoft, IBM's a large, blue-chip tech play trading at a seemingly cheap valuation. Known to many primarily for its hardware, IBM has transitioned to become a leading consulting services provider, battling Accenture for global dominance.
The final reminder
As you decide between Microsoft and these other alternatives (or none of the above), remember that one compelling reason does not an investment thesis make. Each reason is merely a starting point. Good luck!
The Motley Fool is recommending 50 stocks in 50 days for its new "11 O'Clock Stock" series. For more information, click here. Then come back to Fool.com every weekday at 11 a.m. ET for a brand new pick!