Apple recently became the world's most valuable publicly traded company again. But Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is following closely behind thanks to its strong first quarter of fiscal 2020. Shares of the software giant have risen 3% since the company reported its quarterly results earlier this week, giving Microsoft a nearly $1.1 trillion market capitalization and making Bill Gates the world's richest man in the world yet again. 

It's been a great year for Microsoft. Shares are up 39% year to date as investors cheer the company's consistently strong execution with its cloud-based products. Momentum in the cloud persisted in fiscal Q1, helping the company beat top- and bottom-line expectations. 

Here's a look at Microsoft's fiscal first-quarter results and how the software giant's cloud products are delivering for shareholders.

A Microsoft executive on stage with the words Microsoft Azure behind him.

Image source: Microsoft.

Fiscal first-quarter financial results

Microsoft's fiscal first-quarter revenue increased 14% year over year to $33.1 billion. This was a meaningful acceleration from 12% growth in the company's fourth quarter of fiscal 2019. In addition, this top-line figure crushed analysts' average forecast for revenue of $32.2 billion. 

Helping profitability was an expansion of the company's gross profit margin, which widened by 3 percentage points year over year to 69%. This was driven by a growing percentage of sales coming from higher-margin businesses, management said in the company's fiscal first-quarter earnings call. 

Aided by higher revenue and a wider gross profit margin, the company saw outsize growth in its earnings per share. EPS rose 21% year over year to $1.38, beating a consensus analyst estimate of $1.25.

Cloud-based catalysts

Microsoft's commercial cloud revenue, which consists of revenue from Office 365 commercial, Azure, and Dynamics 365, remained a key driver of the company's business. Commercial cloud revenue increased 36% year over year to $11.6 billion.

Azure, Microsoft's cloud computing business, was a particularly strong driver for this segment, with its revenue going up 59% year over year, or 63% in constant currency. This is, however, a slowdown from Azure's 68% constant currency revenue growth in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019. But the cloud computing business continues to outpace Amazon.com's (NASDAQ:AMZN) AWS, whose revenue rose 35% year over year in its most recent quarter.

Importantly, Microsoft said its commercial cloud gross margin expanded by 4 percentage points from the year-ago quarter to a gross margin of 66%. Furthermore, management noted in its fiscal first-quarter earnings call that it expects its commercial cloud gross margin to keep improving on a year-over-year basis throughout fiscal 2020.

Fiscal 2020 looks like it will mark another year of strong growth for Microsoft. Looking ahead to fiscal Q2, Microsoft management guided for total fiscal second-quarter revenue to be between $35.15 billion and $35.95 billion.