Microsoft (NASDSAQ:MSFT) has been on a winning streak given its diversified business portfolio and ability to deliver growth and financial results in a timely manner. Analysts continue to rally around the stock heading into its earnings announcement on April 24, which makes sense given the momentum on the charts, and sustained interest for a variety of Microsoft’s products both for consumers, and within the enterprise as well.
The growth narrative tied to Azure Cloud drives much of the upside commentary among analysts despite the growth rate from Azure is expected to decelerate over the next couple-years. MSFT still trades at a fairly reasonable valuation at 31.35x earnings. The company’s current market capitalization is $934 Billion, with psychological resistance at $1 Trillion, or $130.37. Chances are Microsoft can reach $130 within the next couple months, assuming the stock market rally continues, and investors chase stocks at higher valuations.
Despite multiple expansion adding to the recent stock price gains, software companies tend to trade at a bit a premium multiple given the defensiveness plus recurring revenue of the business model. Just look at Adobe for example, which trades at 49x earnings right now, despite EPS growth expectations of 20%. Microsoft trades at 30x earnings with consensus expecting 14.1% earnings for FY’19. So, there’s definitely some room for Microsoft to trade at a higher when compared to other software companies in the segment.
UBS analyst Jennifer Swanson Lowe remains optimistic on Microsoft heading into Q2’19:
Microsoft shares had a slow start to the year as concerns about slower hardware purchasing from hyperscale providers and tough compares in the transactional portions of the company's weighed on sentiment. However, our checks point to sustained demand for Azure and ongoing Windows upgrade activity as Win7 end of life looms, while a reset in expectations post Q2 should improve the setup into Q3. Stock performance has perked up in recent weeks, but valuation at ~21x EV/CY19 FCF still looks defensive, and MSFT remains one of our favorite names for CY19, offering a balance of top-line growth, margin expansion, and FCF-based valuation support.
The analyst has maintained her $125 price target on MSFT, and anticipates commercial cloud revenue growth of 39% in the next quarter:
We forecast Commercial Cloud rev. growth of 39% YoY to $9.6B on the back of 66% growth in Azure and 26% rev growth in Office 365 Commercial. Our checks continue to highlight strong demand for Azure as the platform underpinning digital transformation (growth is partially impacted by relatively mature per-user business while consumption-based business continues to remain healthy. We expect Commercial Cloud gross margin to improve 100 basis points quarter-on-quarter at 63%, based on improvements in Azure partially offset by lower-margin consumption-based services.
The stock clearly wants to trend higher, and Microsoft does have a fairly solid track-record of meeting or beating consensus expectations. While Microsoft is a mature growth stock, the current consensus still anticipates the stock to trade at $129 currently, which implies that the stock could reach $1T in market valuation over the next 12-months.
Microsoft will need to deliver some pretty solid results and raise financial outlook to get the stock trending up to $130. It seems doable given the stock’s momentum, and the valuation comparisons to some of its other software peers. Despite the catalysts tied to earnings, the summer months should also be interesting, as there’s a number of game software companies riding on this summer’s E3 conference like Electronic Arts and Activision Blizzard.
At this year’s E3 2019 Conference, Microsoft is expected to announce the Xbox 2, which will launch next year, but the preview announcement could add some excitement to the stock, as it looks to renew interest in its gaming franchise. Microsoft’s gaming business produced $10.35B revenue in FY’18 making it a big enough of a business, for Microsoft to start pouring resources into it. With the opportunity to refresh its console line-up, it would be a big opportunity for Microsoft to announce more exclusive titles developed in-house to regain momentum versus Sony, and also build a larger installed base of Xbox Live subscribers from 57 million, which has grown fairly stagnant in the past four quarters.
Improvements in gaming related announcements along with the announcement of earnings on April 24th will add some positive sentiment to the stock. Analysts seem relatively optimistic on the company and it’s hard to mess up on the announcement of a next-generation console this year, so the buzz generating commentary will keep Microsoft relevant in the minds of consumers this year.
Disclosure: The author has no position in MSFT stock.