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Microsoft Earnings Preview: Metrics Investors Should Watch

By Trevor Jennewine – Oct 18, 2021 at 2:06PM

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This $2 trillion tech titan is still growing its business at a rapid pace.

As a company and a stock, Microsoft (MSFT 0.07%) needs little introduction. This tech giant has a presence in several high-growth industries, and its arsenal of products spans from productivity and cybersecurity software to cloud services and gaming.

After years of corporate stagnation, CEO Satya Nadella helped Microsoft turn the tide, and the company has grown at a truly impressive clip since he took the helm in 2014. Since then, the company's share price has rocketed 735% higher, rewarding loyal investors. But after those tremendous gains, can the company continue to impress Wall Street?

In this Backstage Pass video, which aired on Oct. 1, 2021, Motley Fool contributor Trevor Jennewine discusses the metrics investors should watch when Microsoft reports first-quarter earnings on Oct. 26.

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Microsoft's one of the largest companies in the world, with over a $2 trillion market cap. There are really three big growth drivers. It breaks its business into three segments. The first is productivity and business processes. I think most people will recognize Microsoft 365. This is Word, Excel, PowerPoint. The company has about 90% market share in Office Suite software. There's a lot of other popular tools here too, like Teams and SharePoint for collaboration, LinkedIn, Microsoft Dynamics.

The second big growth driver is the Intelligent Cloud; most notable is the cloud computing service, Microsoft Azure. Then the third one is more personal computing, and this is Windows, Xbox, and such advertising primarily. All three of these businesses, all three of these segments have been growing at a double-digit pace, more or less, in recent years. I want to share my screen here real quick.

All three of those businesses have been growing at a double-digit pace, which I think is impressive. But even more impressive, the operating income in each segment has been trending upwards. You can see that over the last three years, Microsoft's revenue is up about 52%. That's about 15% annualized growth. The operating income is growing almost twice as fast. What that looks like, as far as operating margin, is the operating margin has ticked up about 10% in the last three years. I think that's pretty impressive.

Jumping into what's going on in the upcoming quarter, management's expecting revenue of about $44 billion, and that will be up 18%, which is roughly in line with how quickly they've been growing in recent years. A little bit faster. Earnings per share, looking for $2.07, and that would be about a 14% increase, which is a little bit slower. Over the last three years, they've actually grown earnings at about 56%. Possible to see a beat on the bottom line there. Management did mention that some of the boost to the operating margin came from some accounting changes in the most recent quarter. But that doesn't explain the increase in efficiency over the last three years.

As far as what I'm looking for, I like to pay attention to each of those three segments I mentioned and to put some numbers behind them. In the most recent quarter, productivity and business processes grew by 16%. Intelligent Cloud is typically the fastest-growing segment, with 24% growth in the most recent quarter, and then more personal computing is the one that tends to ebb and flow. Gaming is in this [segment]; there's a little bit of cyclicality built into this segment. That was up 12% in the most recent quarter.

Then I'd like to dive more specifically into how quickly Azure itself is growing. In terms of market share, Microsoft Azure had a 22% market share, according to Canalys in the most recent quarter. That is good for being No. 2 -- Amazon has about 31% market share with Amazon Web Services. A lot of research companies like Gartner, and the IDC, Forrester still recognize Amazon as having a broader selection of services. So they still tend to recognize it as the leader there. But Microsoft is certainly gaining ground. It has gained a few percentage points of market share in the last couple of years, while Amazon's hung out in that 30%-to-32% range for a while now.

I'll be looking at the operating margin to see if they can keep driving profitability on the bottom line at an increased pace compared to the top line.

I always like listening to Satya Nadella talk on the conference call. He usually provides good insight into the business as a whole. I especially like to pay attention to what they're doing to drive the growth in Azure. Microsoft has focused a lot on hybrid cloud solutions in recent years, things like Azure Arc and Azure Stack that make it easy for enterprises to adopt a hybrid-cloud model. What that means is that some of your resources might be in a public cloud, like Azure, and some of your resources might be in an on-site data center, so you have a hybrid-cloud environment there.

I think the company is also focused on big data and artificial intelligence. They have solutions like Synapse Analytics and Azure Cognitive Services that address each of those, respectively. I like to hear how management is growing the business, what its plans are to continue gaining traction in that cloud computing market.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Trevor Jennewine owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Microsoft. The Motley Fool recommends Gartner and recommends the following options: long January 2022 $1,920 calls on Amazon and short January 2022 $1,940 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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