Microsoft Sales, Profit Top Estimates as Cloud Demand Soars
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the 2014 Microsoft Build developer conference in San Francisco (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Microsoft Sales, Profit Top Estimates as Cloud Demand Soars

Company has pledged to reach $20B in corporate cloud revenue by the fiscal year that ends in June 2018.

(Bloomberg) -- Microsoft Corp.’s first-quarter sales and earnings topped analysts’ estimates, buoyed by growing demand for cloud-based software and services.

Profit excluding certain items was 76 cents a share on adjusted sales of $22.3 billion, the Redmond, Washington-based company said in a statement Thursday. Analysts on average estimated profit in the period ended Sept. 30 would be 68 cents on revenue of $21.7 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella has been investing in data centers and striking partnerships to bolster sales of Microsoft’s main corporate cloud products, Azure and Office 365 -- internet-based versions of the popular productivity apps, e-mail and collaboration tools. Revenue from Azure cloud services more than doubled, helping Microsoft outperform even as demand for PCs remained in the doldrums and its mobile-phone efforts collapsed.

"Cloud is growing significantly and Azure represents incremental new revenue," said Mark Moerdler, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., who rates the shares outperform. "Commercial cloud is driving revenue growth, which is somewhat hidden by the fact that Nokia is going to zero."

Microsoft shares jumped as much as 5.8 percent in extended trading to a record high following the report, after losing less than 1 percent to $57.25 at the close in New York. The stock rose 13 percent in the three months that ended in September, compared with a 3.3 percent increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

"This transition to the cloud represents the single largest addressable market opportunity we’ve all seen in many many years," Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood said after the report. "There is such an opportunity to grow our overall revenue and do it profitably."

Hood said half of the earnings-per-share estimate beat was because of strong sales, and half was related to a lower-than-expected tax rate and other income. Net income in the recent period declined to $4.69 billion, or 60 cents a share.

Earlier this month, on a swing through Europe, Nadella said the company has spent $3 billion -- $1 billion in the past year alone -- on data centers on the continent to expand cloud services in the region. He promised continued investments there, including new sites in France next year. Hood said in July that gross margins for commercial cloud would "materially improve" in the current year. That’s because previous years of investment are starting to pay off as those data centers support more customers. Commercial cloud gross margin in the recent period was 49 percent, 7 points wider than in the prior quarter.

Read moreMicrosoft Doubled Cloud Data Center Capacity in Europe in Past Year

Microsoft has pledged to reach annualized revenue of $20 billion in its corporate cloud business by the fiscal year that ends in June 2018. That metric stood at more than $13 billion at the end of the fiscal first quarter. The company has been adding customers and workloads for its Azure services, which let clients run and store applications in Microsoft’s data centers.

See alsoLatest Microsoft Data Center Design Gets Close to Unity PUE

PC Market

PC shipments in the September quarter were a smidgen better than expected -- a decline of 3.9 percent, compared with a 4.1 percent drop in the prior period, researcher IDC said. Still, chipmaker Intel Corp. saw its shares plummet by the most in nine months after a disappointing fourth-quarter sales forecast signaled lackluster demand for PCs heading into the holiday shopping season.

Microsoft in July admitted it won’t meet its goal of getting the Windows 10 operating system on 1 billion devices within two to three years of the 2015 release of the software. The company blamed the shortfall on the decision to all but exit the phone hardware business and insisted this year would be a good one for corporate adoption of the system. Analysts are waiting to see evidence.

"I’m not yet ready to call success, but we are seeing enough people doing enough prep work for it that it’s quite possible we could see a jump in adoption on the corporate side," Moerdler said.

Sales in the company’s More Personal Computing business, including Windows and Xbox, slipped 1.8 percent from a year ago to $9.29 billion. That compares with the $8.88 billion average estimate of five analysts polled by Bloomberg. Microsoft also reported a new metric for gaming revenue for Xbox and PC, saying it was $1.9 billion last quarter.

In the Intelligent Cloud unit, comprised of Azure and server software deployed in customers’ own data centers, sales rose 8.3 percent to $6.38 billion, compared with the $6.26 billion average analyst estimate. Productivity revenue climbed 5.6 percent $6.66 billion. Analysts had estimated $6.55 billion.

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