Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) shareholders are beginning to enjoy some of the fruits of new-ish CEO Satya Nadella's labors. Like many tech stocks, Microsoft's share price has popped in 2014, up about 24% year to date. Not bad compared to some cloud-first, mobile-first rivals including Oracle (NYSE:ORCL), whose stock price is essentially flat so far this year.
And let's not forget the recent announcement that Microsoft will acquire the rights to the ridiculously popular Minecraft game as part of the acquisition of its development studio, Mojang. Infamous Minecraft creator Mark Persson isn't part of the deal, but that didn't prevent Microsoft from writing a $2.5 billion check. Though some have questioned the acquisition, there's no denying gaming has become an obsession to many around the globe, and Microsoft just paved the way to what could be another significant driver of growth next year, and beyond.
It starts with the cloud
Nary a day goes by that Nadella isn't heard muttering his "cloud-first, mobile-first" mantra. So it's not surprising that cloud revenue will play a key role in determining whether Microsoft can continue its solid stock price run, even reaching $60 a share by next year.
It's difficult to say who's really leading the cloud race, as virtually all the significant players bundle their respective cloud revenue results within other business lines. Oracle, for example, was quick to point out in its recently announced fiscal 2015 first-quarter earnings that "Total Software plus Cloud revenue was up 6% to $6.6 billion." That sounds great, but doesn't tell investors how much of the $6.6 billion was from software -- the vast majority, no doubt -- and how much was specific to cloud-related technologies.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is happy to share its cloud revenue specifics, noting the business doubled yet again last quarter, and now stands at an annual run rate nearing $4.5 billion. Going forward, as Nadella has made perfectly clear, Microsoft's cloud solutions will drive its results: good or bad. Based on last quarter, however, it's safe to say investors can assume Microsoft's cloud efforts will continue to impress.
Ah, but what about mobile?
Microsoft's hybrid Surface Pro 3, a pseudo-tablet, wasn't exactly a smashing success when it was first introduced in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. But that all changed once Surface Pro 3 made its way to the rest of the world late last month, selling out by lunchtime on its first day in Australia and flying off the shelves in China, Germany, and a host of other countries. So what does that mean for Nadella's mobile-first plans?
As with any mobile device, be it tablet, smartphone, or the Surface Pro 3, the operating system plays a key role in determining a consumer's willingness to buy. Assuming the Pro 3 continues to gather sales steam -- Microsoft still hasn't released specific sales figures -- it could very well be the impetus for users to take another look at its smartphone lineup, including the rapidly growing phablet market. Microsoft's Lumia 1520, which it inherited upon closing the deal for Nokia's devices and services unit, stacks up well with what phablet industry leaders Apple and Samsung have to offer.
If Nadella and team are able to get Microsoft's mobile revenue up and moving, 2015 could once again be a banner year for investors. A successful mobile business, in conjunction with what is clearly a rapidly growing cloud unit, would be enough to warrant investors driving Microsoft to $60 a share by next year.
With nearly $86 billion in cash and equivalents as of last year, the $2.5 billion Microsoft spent for Minecraft and its associated assets is a mere pittance. To give you an indication of just how popular Minecraft is with the gaming community, it recently generated about $200,000 in PC and Mac sales alone, in 24 hours. And it's not limited to desktop devices: Minecraft is available on virtually every mobile OS platform around.
But revenue from the game itself is hardly the only opportunity for Microsoft. Toss in licensing, merchandising, possibly even in-app advertising, and it's easy to see why the company didn't hesitate to spend $2.5 billion to bolster its gaming efforts.
Final Foolish thoughts
Cloud, mobile, and gaming are all significant revenue opportunities for Microsoft, which of course means they offer the same potential for rivals Oracle in the cloud, Apple and Samsung in mobile, and Sony in the world of gaming. But as Microsoft's impressive stock price run indicates, investors are realizing that Nadella's cloud-first, mobile-first mantra is more than a nice thought; it's becoming reality, and $60 a share by next year will be the result.
Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Microsoft, and Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.