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Microsoft could unseat Apple as most valuable company soon

Azure unit, which rents computing power to startups and larger businesses, posted an impressive 50% growth for the quarter.
Azure unit, which rents computing power to startups and larger businesses, posted an impressive 50% growth for the quarter. (REUTERS)

Microsoft said revenue totalled $45.3 billion in its fiscal first quarter, a jump of 22% from a year earlier.

Microsoft Corp. is in the technology sweet spot. With another stellar quarter fueled by growth of the cloud computing business, the software giant is showing that it could have the best fundamental outlook among its tech giant peers.

The company said revenue totalled $45.3 billion in its fiscal first quarter, a jump of 22% from a year earlier and more than the $43.9 billion median estimate of analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Profits also surpassed expectations. Microsoft’s shares climbed as much as 2% in after-hours trading.

There is logic to the positive reaction: The main drivers of the strong results are sustainable for the foreseeable future. First, there is the return-to-office trend. As employees started heading back into physical offices, they will need to be outfitted with the latest software from Microsoft. Even more important is the industry-wide transition toward cloud computing. Microsoft’s Azure unit, which rents computing power to startups and larger businesses, posted an impressive 50% growth for the quarter.

Azure is in a position to thrive for years to come. The opportunity is massive. According to Wedbush Securities, global cloud-services spending will approach $1 trillion over the next decade as businesses spend more on cloud computing. Microsoft is the No. 2 player, with about 20% of the market, according to Gartner. It grew at more than double the rate of market leader Amazon Inc.’s Amazon Web Services last year. Microsoft has a unique advantage. Unlike its cloud competitors, it sells traditional PC software and operating systems, and can provide better integration with its products. Many medium-size companies prefer consolidating their purchases with one company to avoid the complexity of multiple vendors. That may be why a recent Morgan Stanley survey of chief information officers showed Microsoft would gain the biggest share of technology budgets over the next three years — above all other technology companies including Amazon.

Here’s another lucky circumstance. While many firms have had to deal with supply-chain complications, Microsoft’s main businesses — software and services that rely on data traveling over the internet — have been relatively unscathed.  Apple Inc., in contrast, has to manufacture and ship iPhones across continents. Amazon’s e-commerce operation must stock merchandise to sell for the holidays. Microsoft wasn’t the only technology behemoth to post robust results Tuesday. Google-parent Alphabet Inc. reported a nearly 70% jump in net profit in the latest quarter. It’s all the more evidence that even as regulators train their sights on the big tech companies, they continue to generate eye-opening profits. What’s next for Microsoft? Ahead of the latest results, the company was valued at $2.33 trillion — second to Apple’s $2.47 trillion. The two companies have traded off the designation of most valuable company a number of times in recent years. It might not be long before Microsoft retakes the crown.

 

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