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Microsoft Might Be One of the Cheapest Stocks Out There

By Morgan Housel - Updated Apr 6, 2017 at 12:38PM

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If you can look past its rivals, this is one cheap stock.

I don't know much about technology. I don't follow the industry. I don't know the jargon. My wireless router wasn't even password-protected until about a month ago -- I just couldn't figure the damn thing out.

But I do know that Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) looks cheap. Really cheap, in fact. And the numbers are so compelling that you don't have to know much about technology to make the case (thank goodness).

Ctrl-Alt-Delete
What gets me excited about Microsoft boils down to this: Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is slowly taking over the world. That makes it easy and popular to write Microsoft off as a dinosaur heading toward irrelevancy, like Toyota vs. GM.

But lost in this overly simplistic comparison is a simple truth: Microsoft is outrageously profitable, its balance sheet is bulletproof, and its stock trades at a valuation that makes sense in only the most offensively cynical scenarios.

Start by looking at some basic statistics:

Metric

Value

Market Cap

$220 billion

Share Price

$25.00

Cash per Share

$4.24

TTM EPS

$1.93

Forward P/E Ratio

10.9x

Past 5-Year Growth Rate

11%

Next 5-Year Growth Rate (expected)

9.3%

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

Here you have a $25 stock, with 17% of that value made up of cash in the bank. Back out the cash just sitting there collecting dust, and you get an enterprise value of about $20.75 per share. Simple math: That's 11 times trailing earnings, which is perfectly insane given how low interest rates are.

And what do you get for this unloved stock? A company that still commands more than 90% market share. A company with a near monopoly, where both consumers and corporations realistically have to use Microsoft Office to remain relevant. By any stretch, a company with one of the most powerful moats in the world.

I won't argue that Microsoft's potential to change the future surpasses its nemesis, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). Again, I'm naive in this area. But winning investments often have nothing to do with how fast a company can innovate and grow earnings. It's about investing when valuations work in your favor. And that can happen to even boring and slowly dying companies. Altria Group (NYSE: MO), for example, outperformed Google over the past five years. I bet it will over the next five years, too.

Pick your odds
When a stock like Microsoft trades around 11 times earnings in a zero-interest rate environment, you can throw around some wild scenarios that still leave the probabilities of success in your favor.

If Microsoft never again grows earnings from now until the end of time, shares would still be a bargain. If it lit $10 billion of cash on fire just to watch it glow, shares would still be a bargain. If Google Docs takes off like wildfire and Office sales fall 50%, Microsoft's total net income would fall by roughly 25%, in which case shares would still roughly match the valuation of the broader market. Create your own adventure: You can torture a range of possibilities and still struggle to come up with a scenario where Microsoft's shares aren't reasonably cheap. That's when investing gets fun.

And many of the folks who do actually follow Microsoft (and can work a wireless router) aren't remotely this pessimistic. Average analyst earnings estimates are anything but ominous:

Year

2011

2012

2013

EPS Estimates

$2.32

$2.61

$3.05

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Our Foolish tech expert Eric Bleeker also thinks doomsday forecasts for Microsoft's Office are bunk. As he wrote this week:

Microsoft's business unit is being pitched as future roadkill by some, but I think the cross-sale opportunity on the applications surrounding Office is misunderstood. Given better tie-ins and having partners sell their product line as a fully packaged solution, the company has some great opportunities to expand its revenue away from the Office suite. Really, it's just following the path of its large IT peers. Microsoft is trying to become a one-stop shop for clients' needs.

Low hurdles
The world's best investors, most notably Warren Buffett, have made their fortunes scooping up unloved companies the market has written off. Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRK-A)(NYSE: BRK-B) other co-chairman, advises that "You're likely to be happier and gain felicity by aiming low." Microsoft shareholders are currently aiming low. Happy future returns seem like a good bet.

Check back every Tuesday and Friday for Morgan Housel's columns on finance and economics.

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Stocks Mentioned

Microsoft Corporation Stock Quote
Microsoft Corporation
MSFT
$264.89 (-1.05%) $-2.81
Altria Group, Inc. Stock Quote
Altria Group, Inc.
MO
$43.19 (-0.48%) $0.21
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.A
$417,700.00 (0.07%) $298.56
Alphabet Inc. Stock Quote
Alphabet Inc.
GOOGL
$2,316.67 (-1.81%) $-42.83
Apple Inc. Stock Quote
Apple Inc.
AAPL
$141.66 (0.00%) $0.00
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Stock Quote
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
BRK.B
$278.40 (0.04%) $0.12

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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