Stocks traded higher through the entire session on Wednesday and finished the day with solid gains. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.79%) added 36 points, or 0.2%, and the S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.86%) gained 9 points, or 0.4%.
This earnings season continued to drive volatility among individual stocks. Microsoft (MSFT 0.81%) and Intuitive Surgical (ISRG 2.12%) were among the day's biggest movers following their earnings releases.
Microsoft doubles its Azure business
Microsoft led all Dow components with a 5% jump after announcing strong quarterly results to close out its 2016 fiscal year. The software giant's revenue rose 2% as healthy growth in its cloud segment more than offset the declining personal computing division. The resulting $22.6 billion of revenue beat consensus estimates that were calling for $22.1 billion. Profits also significantly outpaced targets, rising 11% year-over-year to $0.69 per share compared to the $0.57 per share that Wall Street was forecasting.
The cloud division was a major bright spot in this report. In fact, Microsoft's cloud services spiked to a $12 billion business as its Azure revenue doubled, putting it right on track to meet management's $20 billion annual goal by fiscal 2018.
"Overall, the cloud is winning significant customer support," CEO Satya Nadella told investors in a conference call.
Microsoft issued a mixed forecast for the coming fiscal year. On the positive side, it sees its cloud profitability rising as capital expenditures slow in that division. Gross margin declines in other segments will offset those gains, though, so Nadella and his team are projecting a one percentage point drop in overall profitability. Investors chose to focus instead on Microsoft's brightening finances that included a 15% spike in free cash flow. In doing so, they pushed shares closer to the record high Microsoft last saw in late 1999.
Intuitive Surgical beats and raises
Robotic surgery device specialist Intuitive Surgical's stock jumped past $700 per share for the first time after it posted second quarter results. Revenue rose 14%, helped along by a double-digit increase in the volume of shipments of its da Vinci surgical platform. Intuitive Surgical delivered 130 da Vinci systems to clients, compared to 118 in the prior year.
Profitability improved nicely, with gross margin rising to 72% of sales from 68%. A big factor in that boost was the fact that average selling prices for its products improved by $60,000 to pass $1.5 million. That expansion helped power a 35% spike in net income as net margin jumped to 27% of sales from 23% a year ago. The resulting $5.62 per share of profit beat consensus estimates by 13%.
"Our company performance was strong," CEO Gary Guthart said in a conference call with investors, "highlighted by sustained procedure growth across multiple geographies, improved margins, and continued customer preference of our new products."
Looking forward, executives are encouraged by the strong growth they see in the volume of procedures using its hardware. They now project those gains coming in at roughly 15% for the year, compared to the 13% they had targeted three months ago. Profitability forecasts also were hiked in this report, and it was that broadly improving operating outlook that convinced investors to send shares to a new high.