New Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Satya Nadella will preside over his first Microsoft earnings release Thursday, and the way the market is applauding his early moves, anything less than a complete disappointment will probably give MSFT stock a boost. 
It’s been a crummy year for technology stocks and several awful years for sales of the PCs on which MSFT depends. Yet MSFT stock is putting up excellent gains so far this year, thanks to optimism over new CEO Satya Nadella.
While shares in tech giants like Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) are negative so far this year, Microsoft stock is racking up gains. Indeed, MSFT stock is up nearly 7% for the year-to-date. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite is roughly flat.
Microsoft earnings afford analysts their first chance to pepper CEO Satya Nadella with questions about his vision for the company, but he hasn’t been in charge long enough to take too much heat. Still, that doesn’t mean things won’t get interesting.
MSFT Stock and the New CEO’s Vision
Much of the strategy discussion over at MSFT will focus on mobile. On the one hand, Satya Nadella got very high marks for finally bringing that great MSFT cash cow of Office to AAPL iPad. And the long-awaited move has been an enormous success.
What might be a bit less comfortable are analysts’ questions over how MSFT is going to digest Nokia’s (NOK) hardware business — and its 32,000 employees. The deal has been widely questioned and closes the day after the earnings call. The timing alone means NOK will get at least a fair share of attention.
True, focusing on mobile is a no-brainer, but buying up a massive also-ran handset maker might not be the best use of MSFT resources. If the marriage sours, well, it’s certain to weigh on MSFT stock eventually.
And even though the $7.2 billion deal for Nokia’s money-losing handset business was struck by Nadella’s predecessor Steve Ballmer, it’s the new CEO’s problem now.
The Street will also want to know more about MSFT ending support for Windows XP and what the software maker thinks that will do for sales of its newest operating system.
More upbeat will be any attention paid to the enterprise and cloud services business on the Microsoft earnings call. These are Nadella specialties and are key drivers of any future success for MSFT stock. The market has been especially happy with Nadella’s focus on these areas so far, making any commentary a potential catalyst for Microsoft stock.
The actual numbers Wall Street expects to see out of Microsoft earnings are nothing special. Analysts on average expect MSFT earnings to fall to 63 cents per share from 72 cents a year ago, pulled down in part by the decline in sales of PCs.
MSFT revenue is forecast to slip just 0.5%, however, bolstered by strength in the enterprise segment of Microsoft earnings.
But Satya Nadella is going to be the star of this Microsoft earnings release. As long as Microsoft earnings and outlook don’t spring any nasty surprises, the CEO will be the star this Thursday.
That should be comforting for investors in Microsoft stock because the market’s crazy about the guy — at least for now.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.