Earnings season will kick into high gear next month. With major market indices hitting new highs recently, expectations are high. The pressure is particularly significant for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). The tech giant's stock has soared to new highs recently, with shares up 21% year to date. The stock's rise has easily outpaced the S&P 500's 12% gain during this same period.

Microsoft has put a date on its fiscal 2018 first-quarter earnings release, scheduling the report for Oct. 26. With Microsoft's next quarterly financial results on the horizon, let's take an early look at some of the key areas to watch when the software giant reports results.

Microsoft executive discusses the power of Microsoft Azure

Image source: Microsoft.


Microsoft investors will turn to the company's revenue in Q1 to get a look at its growth trajectory.

In Microsoft's most recent quarter, or its fourth fiscal quarter of 2017, the software company reported 13% year-over-year growth in revenue, or 9% growth on an adjusted basis. For Microsoft's first quarter of fiscal 2018, analysts expect growth to persist, albeit at a slower rate. On average, analysts expect year-over-year revenue growth of about 5%. 

Some of this expected deceleration may be a result of management's expectation for more moderate growth in the company's Office consumer products. Management warned in the company's fourth-quarter earnings call that prior-year comparables are likely to bring down first-quarter consumer products growth compared to growth in Q4.


Azure was a major growth driver for Microsoft in the company's most recent quarter. Azure revenue growth was up 97% year over year, helping Microsoft's server products and cloud services revenue climb a nice 15%.

It will be interesting to see if growth can persist this strong in Microsoft's first fiscal quarter of 2018. Management said during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call that demand for Azure remained strong headed into Q1 and that it expected "double-digit revenue growth across server products and cloud services."

A sketch of a cloud connected to laptops

Image source: Getty Images.

Azure's growth comes amid a broader trend of commercial cloud-based ecosystems industry growth. But Microsoft's fourth-quarter growth in Azure, which marked an acceleration from Azure's third-quarter year-over-year growth, was exceptionally high. Even Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), with its industry-leading Amazon Web Services (AWS), isn't seeing growth this robust. Amazon's second-quarter AWS revenue was $4.1 billion, up 42% year over year. 

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explained Azure's fast-growing popularity in the company's earnings call. "CIOs [chief information officers] and business decision-makers increasingly prefer Azure as they make decisions about their cloud strategy," Nadella noted. "They value our hybrid consistency, developer productivity, AI [artificial intelligence] capabilities, and trusted approach."

Office 365 commercial revenue

Microsoft's Office 365 commercial revenue was another strong contributor to the company's results last quarter. Revenue from the cloud product was up 43% year over year, playing a key role in Microsoft's growth in Microsoft's 21% year-over-year increase in its second-largest segment -- productivity and business processes.

While Microsoft management noted specifically that it expected more moderate growth from its Office consumer products in Q4, management seemed more bullish on its outlook for Office 365 commercial revenue, saying "growth will continue to be driven by install base growth."

Overall, investors should look to Q1 to see if Microsoft's hot growth drivers, namely cloud products Azure and Office 365, can continue offsetting the company's declining personal-computing segment.

Teresa Kersten is an employee of LinkedIn and is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. LinkedIn is owned by Microsoft. Daniel Sparks has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.