As Microsoft Corp.’s fiscal year drew to a close, the company’s stock hit record high after record high, eventually pushing Microsoft to an $800 billion valuation for the first time heading into its fourth-quarter earnings report.
Typically at Microsoft
, the fourth quarter is an important one because it’s the moment when the company often divulges massive changes to its organization. Microsoft is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter earnings after the markets close on Thursday.
Last year, reports and leaks gave investors a clear picture of what to expect from the Redmond, Wash.-based company, which ultimately turned out to be a roughly 3,000-person layoff mostly targeting its sales staff. In the past, the company has reorganized its reporting segments as well as reshuffling executives along with fourth-quarter results.
Stifel analyst Brad Reback, who has a buy rating on Microsoft with a target price of $107, pointed out in a note to clients Sunday that software companies typically make changes to their sales teams that correspond with the first fiscal quarter, so investors should likely expect some type of announcement from executives beyond the numbers.
Aside from end-of-the-year changes, Microsoft recently announced a cheaper version of its Surface tablet in the hopes of competing with the iPad produced by Apple Inc.
, though the historic results of the Surface portfolio of products have been uneven. It also launched a new free tier for its Teams software package, which could increase competition in that arena with rivals like Slack Technologies Inc. and Atlassian Corp.
Significantly too Microsoft and Walmart Inc.
announced a deal Tuesday where the retail giant has agreed to use Microsoft’s Azure cloud tech over the next five years. The deal includes deployment of Microsoft’s artificial intelligence tech to help pick products that go on shelves and optimize the performance of freezers and other equipment.
The Walmart-Microsoft deal for cloud tech is likely to boost the company’s growing cloud unit, which analysts continue to point to as an important driver of the company’s overall growth.
What to expect
Earnings: On average, analysts polled by FactSet model Microsoft fiscal fourth-quarter adjusted earnings of $1.08 a share. Contributors to Estimize, which crowdsources estimates from analysts, fund managers and academics, predict adjusted earnings of $1.11 a share, on average.
Revenue: Analysts estimate Microsoft’s fiscal fourth-quarter sales will be $29.21 billion, according to FactSet. Productivity and business processes is expected to bank $9.68 billion, Intelligent Cloud will bring in $9.09 billion and More Personal Computing is expected to log sales of $10.41 billion. Estimize contributors predict revenue of $29.38 billion.
Stock movement: Microsoft stock is up 10.3% in the past three months, with the S&P 500 index
up 3.4% in the same period. Microsoft shares are up 24% this year.
Of the 34 analysts that cover Microsoft, 29 rate the stock the equivalent to a buy, according to FactSet. Four analysts rate the name a hold and one has a sell rating. The average price target is $113.55, which is an 8% increase from Monday’s closing price.
What analysts are saying: At least three analysts warned investors about a potential dip due to new accounting rules that require companies to immediately recognize software revenue and the impact of foreign exchange costs. Citing recent results from Red Hat Inc.
and Oracle Corp.
, Reback wrote in a note to clients Sunday that while hard to quantify, unfavorable currency moves will have a greater impact.
UBS analyst Jennifer Lowe also pointed out the potential for foreign exchange impact, and cited Red Hat and Oracle. Lowe has a buy on the name with a $114 price target.
RBC Capital Markets analyst Ross MacMillan wrote in a note to clients Sunday that his team doesn’t see a major foreign exchange impact on Microsoft’s cloud businesses because of when the sales were logged. MacMillan wrote that there will likely be other impacts on the company’s financials, however.
“The transactional business, of course, should see an immediate impact from diminished FX tailwinds and note, that excluding Windows (which is broadly FX immune), transactional revenue equates to around 45% of total revenue.” MacMillan wrote.
MacMillan has the equivalent of a buy rating on the stock with a price target of $115.
The company’s cloud business, which Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood has stressed the importance of, will also be under scrutiny by investors and analysts. Raymond James analyst Michael Turtis wrote in a note to clients Monday that Microsoft’s Azure is emerging with rival Amazon.com Inc.’s
Amazon Web Services as “near duopoly leaders” in several key cloud areas. Turtis has the equivalent of a buy rating on the stock with a $124 price target.
Several analysts also pointed to better-than expected PC shipments during the quarter, according to the research firms IDC and Gartner, as potentially affecting Microsoft. Both third-party research firms tracked the best year-over-year growth for the PC market in more than six years.