Microsoft Corp. (MSFT:US), the world’s largest software maker, reported fiscal third-quarter profit that topped estimates on better-than-expected sales of software for businesses.
Net income slipped to $5.11 billion, or 60 cents a share (MSFT:US), from $5.23 billion, or 61 cents, a year earlier, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said today in a statement. Analysts had predicted an average 57 cents in profit, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg (MSFT:US). Sales rose to 6 percent to $17.4 billion, beating the $17.2 billion average projection.
Microsoft benefited from robust corporate purchasing of Office productivity programs, Windows 7 operating systems and software for servers. The company plans later this year to release Windows 8, the newest version of its operating system, to help it win back consumers and narrow Apple Inc.’s lead in the market for tablets.
“These are the kind of quarters that are tough to pull out, and the corporate demand is pulling them through,” said Pat Becker Jr., a fund manager at Becker Capital Management in Portland, Oregon, who owns Microsoft shares.
Microsoft shares (MSFT:US) climbed as much as 3.2 percent to $32 in extended trading after the report. The stock had decreased less than 1 percent to $31.01 at the close in New York. It gained 24 percent in the three months through the end of March, the biggest quarterly increase (MSFT:US) since mid-2009, as investors grow more confident about the prospects for Windows 8.
Attention to Costs
Microsoft gave its first look at operating-cost projections for the fiscal year that starts July 1, saying expenses will be $30.3 billion to $30.9 billion.
That’s an increase of as much as 8 percent, higher than this year’s increase, as the company plans for costs related to product debuts in Windows and Office, Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein said in an interview.
In the current year, expenses will be $28.3 billion to $28.7 billion, lower than a January forecast of $28.5 billion to $28.9 billion.
Expenses are under renewed scrutiny because Microsoft’s revenue growth is slowing, said Colin Gillis, an analyst at BGC Partners LP in New York, who recommends buying Microsoft shares.
Sales in the current fiscal year (MSFT:US) are predicted by analysts to rise 6 percent, compared with 12 percent in 2011.
“It’s all about cost discipline because revenue growth isn’t great,” he said.
Unearned revenue, a measure of future sales, was $15.2 billion, above the $14.9 billion average estimate compiled by Bloomberg. Profit in the year-ago quarter was boosted by a 5- cent tax benefit.
Windows division sales rose 4 percent to $4.62 billion, compared with the $4.2 billion average estimate, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That was the fastest growth since the quarter that ended Sept. 30 2010, Microsoft said.
“We are seeing year-over-year growth in Windows again, and it’s actually looking like it’s growing faster than PCs,” said Brendan Barnicle, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities LLC in Portland, Oregon, who has a neutral rating on the shares.
Revenue in the Business division, mostly from Office software, rose 9.1 percent to $5.81 billion. That shows that demand for Office 2010 software, which was released in mid-2010, has persisted longer than would be expected for an almost two- year old product, Microsoft’s Klein said. Analysts on average had projected $5.6 billion.
Office has “frankly been better than you would normally expect at this point in the cycle,” he said.
The Windows division was bolstered as purchases of Windows 7 software from enterprise customers outweighed lackluster demand from consumers. Shipments of corporate machines rose 8 percent, while consumer demand was flat, Klein said.
The increase in Windows sales was greater than the overall increase in PC shipments reported by Gartner Inc. PC shipments were better than expected in the first quarter, according to market-research firm Gartner, rising 1.9 percent, instead of the 1.2 percent drop Gartner had forecast. The PC market is shaking off the impact of the European debt crisis and a disk-drive shortage resulting from last year’s flooding in Thailand.
Households that used to purchase cheap netbook computers are switching to such devices as tablet computers, he said. A new iPad went on sale last month and sold 3 million units in its debut weekend.
Windows 8 Cometh
Microsoft probably won’t be able to alter that trend until Windows 8 ships, Klein said in January.
While the company has declined to say when Windows 8 will go on sale, people with knowledge of the matter said last month that Microsoft will finish work on the product this summer and put it on sale around October.
Prior to this quarter, Windows division sales have fallen short of analysts’ estimates in four of the past five periods.
Another area of consumer weakness showed up in the division that includes Xbox, where sales declined 16 percent to $1.62 billion, below analysts’ average estimate for sales of $2.1 billion. In what Microsoft termed a “soft” console market, the company sold only 1.4 million Xbox 360 machines, down 48 percent from the year-ago quarter.
Microsoft doesn’t plan to market a new version of its gaming console until 2013 at the earliest, people with knowledge of the matter said last month. That means Microsoft will need to squeeze a few more quarters of sales from the device, and that weaker demand for the current machine is a concern, Barnicle said.
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