As soon as I finally turned bullish on Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), MSFT stock hit a pothole.
I’d been a very small brick in the “wall of worry” Microsoft stock climbed over the past year or so, arguing as recently as September that the stock’s run had gone too far. I’ve slowly, but steadily, realized the error of my ways, seeing the stock set up well for last month’s earnings report.
And, of course, MSFT stock promptly tumbled following that report.
But Microsoft really was a victim of timing more than anything else. Fiscal second-quarter numbers were strong, beating consensus estimates on both the top and bottom lines. The problem was that the broad market tanked — and brought MSFT down with it. As confidence has returned, Microsoft stock has recovered; it now sits just 3.5% below all-time highs reached toward the end of last month.
And I do think MSFT stock will reach new highs this year — perhaps relatively soon, assuming the broad market cooperates. This still isn’t my favorite stock in the market, admittedly. Large-cap tech — the stars of last year’s market — look shakier at the moment. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) have stumbled of late. Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has risen almost 50% just since October. (Amazon, in fact, passed Microsoft in terms of market value this week.)
It’s tougher to find value in the group as a whole, but I do think Microsoft stock still has a bit more room to rally — and likely enough to see the triple-digits this year for the first time.
Solid Q4 Earnings
It’s worth remembering just how far Microsoft has come. As I pointed out all the way back in 2016, for the five fiscal years between FY12 and FY16, Microsoft earnings basically didn’t move. Non-GAAP EPS was $2.73 in fiscal 2012 and $2.79 in fiscal 2016.
It now appears to be a very different Microsoft. In Q2, revenue rose 12%, though about a quarter to a third of the growth came from last year’s acquisition of LinkedIn (which closed during Q2 FY17). Operating income rose 10%, and non-GAAP EPS jumped 20%, thanks in part to a lower tax rate and a reduced share count.
Looking closer, what’s becoming clear is that Microsoft still has several growth drivers in front of it. Office commercial rose 10%; Office consumer rose 12%. In both cases, the cloud-based Office 365 contributed much of the strength. Azure revenue growth continues to be torrid, rising 98% as Microsoft continues to chase down Amazon Web Services. Even PC-related sales rose 2%, as Bing search revenue rose and even Windows rose 4%.
And while Q2 looks good, the areas that saw growth aren’t necessarily due to slow down. Azure has a huge runway in front of it. The shift from disc-based Office sales to cloud-based Office 365 should continue for years. Microsoft Dynamics, the company’s CRM alternative to the namesake software of Salesforce.com, Inc. (NYSE:CRM) is making progress as well, with 67% growth year over year in Q2, per the Q4 conference call. The bear argument I made previously — that revenue and earnings growth weren’t sustainable — seems fully disproved at this point.
How Much Upside Is Left for MSFT Stock?
If that’s the case, there’s still the question of what, exactly, Microsoft stock is worth. The stock still trades at about 22 times forward earnings — a huge jump from the 12-14 multiples it received earlier this decade.
In context, however, that’s not necessarily a huge number. Microsoft is cheaper than, say, GOOGL or Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB). But both of those companies are posting even stronger growth than Microsoft, particularly on the bottom line.
So, while Microsoft as a company has more growth to come, I question whether Microsoft stock won’t start to moderate from here on out. MSFT, somewhat amazingly, has risen 230% over just the last five years. I’m not sure that low-double-digit growth necessarily supports a 25+ P/E multiple. Without that multiple expansion, MSFT’s appreciation probably more closely tracks its EPS growth.
At the moment, this still suggests MSFT can appreciate 10%+ a year, with a nearly 2% dividend adding returns as well. And a 22-24 forward multiple to FY19 EPS, which should be in the $4 range, plus the company’s net cash should get MSFT stock over $100 this year.
In such a torrid market, particularly in tech, 10-15% upside seems almost disappointing. But for a company with the size and diversification of Microsoft, it’s certainly not a bad deal.
This is a company worth owning. And with questions surrounding many of its mega-cap peers, double-digit upside is nothing to sneeze at.
As of this writing, Vince Martin has no positions in any securities mentioned.