Ever since Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft (NASDAQ:CEO) in early 2014, he has made everything at Microsoft all about the cloud. This cloud push has worked. Microsoft’s cloud revolution has powered Microsoft stock from $35 to $110 under Nadella’s leadership.
This cloud revolution is far from over.
Only about 20% of enterprise workloads have migrated to the cloud, and given price, efficiency, and convenience advantages of the cloud, the consensus belief is that number will rise towards 100% in the long run.
As such, the global cloud growth narrative is still in its early innings, and most industry analysts and research firms peg this as a 20% to 30% or bigger growth market over the next several years.
More than that, Microsoft has established itself as the hottest cloud company. They aren’t the biggest. That distinction still belongs to Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). But, Microsoft has the fastest growing cloud business, and is gaining share at a rapid rate that is second to none in this market.
As such, Microsoft’s cloud revolution is far from over. Microsoft stock is more priced for this revolution today (25X forward earnings) than it was in 2014 (16X forward earnings), so Microsoft won’t benefit from the same multiple expansion it has benefited from over the past several years. But, profit growth should remain robust, and that should be enough to keep MSFT stock on its winning trajectory.
The Cloud Revolution Is Far from Over
One of the biggest and most promising growth narratives in the market over the past several years has been the mainstream emergence of cloud services. In layman’s terms, enterprises are increasingly migrating workloads from on-site to cloud-hosted due to cost, convenience, and efficiency advantages.
This growth narrative is still in its early innings. It is estimated that only 20% of enterprise workloads have migrated to the cloud thus far. Inevitably, that number will be 100% in the long run, and it should rise to 100% rather quickly.
As such, today’s 30%-plus growth rates in the cloud market aren’t going away any time soon. If anything, they will remain above 30%.
Within this cloud segment, Microsoft has differentiated itself as the most rapidly growing and hottest cloud company in the market.
In the cloud world, you have the “Big Three,” Amazon, Microsoft, and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG). But, that Big Three is increasingly becoming the Big Two as Microsoft Azure is emerging as a solid second fiddle to Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud is being left out as a formidable but much smaller third wheel.
For example, last quarter, Google Cloud grew by about 30%. Amazon Web Services grew over 45%. Azure grew by nearly 80%. Meanwhile, market research firms like Canalys and Gartner have found that, in terms of market share expansion, Microsoft is the undisputed leader in the cloud market.
In other words, Microsoft is the hottest company in the cloud market, meaning Microsoft is the hottest company in arguably the hottest market. That positions the company favorably for long term revenue and earnings growth.
Microsoft Stock Still Has Runway
The big knock against Microsoft stock at current levels is valuation. After all, back when MSFT began on its multi-year cloud uptrend in 2014, the stock was trading at just 16X forward earnings.
Today, the forward multiple is up at 25.
Thus, considering valuation is pretty full now, Microsoft stock won’t triple over the next four years like it has over the past four years. But, that doesn’t mean this rally in MSFT stock is over, either.
Instead, due to improving cloud growth prospects and rapidly scaling cloud margins, Microsoft’s long term profit growth outlook today is far more favorable than it has been in recent memory.
Back in 2014, Wall Street pegged Microsoft’s long term earnings growth rate at narrowly above 7.5%. Today, Wall Street sees cloud powering 10-15% earnings growth per year over the next several years.
Considering high single digit to low double digit revenue growth is here to stay and margins are improving, 10-15% earnings growth seems achievable.
EPS last year was $3.88. If that grows at 12.5% per year, EPS will be about $7 in five years. Growth stocks normally trade around 20X forward earnings. A 20 forward multiple on $7 implies a four-year forward price target for MSFT stock of $140.
Thus, while MSFT stock won’t triple over the next four years, it also won’t fall during that stretch. Cloud driven upside from current levels is healthy.
Bottom Line on Microsoft Stock
Microsoft’s cloud revolution, which has caused the stock to more than triple over the past four years, is far from over. Granted, a rich valuation today precludes Microsoft stock from repeating on prior success. But, this rally isn’t over, and upside in a long-term window remains healthy.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long MSFT, AMZN, and GOOG.