Is the Worst Over for Microsoft (MSFT)?

10/23/2009 2:10 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

When I added Microsoft (MSFT) to Jubak’s Picks on July 24, 2009 after the company announced results for its fiscal fourth quarter, I wrote “This is as bad as it gets.”

After its October 23 earnings release, the company is now saying the same thing. In the post-earnings conference call, Microsoft CFO Chris Liddell said that the fourth quarter may have been the bottom. Certainly, the company is behaving as if it were: Microsoft resumed buying back shares in the quarter that ended in September with purchases of 1.4 billion shares.

First quarter earnings for fiscal 2010 fell to 40 cents a share, but that beat the 32 cents expected by Wall Street. Revenue declined by 14% from the first quarter of fiscal 2009 to $12.92 billion. That big drop in revenue came because Microsoft deferred $1.47 billion in revenue from customers upgrading to Windows 7. Put that back in and revenue came to $14.39 billion, a 4% decline from the year-earlier period.

Microsoft beat Wall Street estimates this quarter by cutting costs by more than Wall Street expected. Operating costs dropped 6.9% after the company made its first ever company-wide firings, slashed travel costs, and cut the prices it pays vendors. In the conference call, the company increased its cost-cutting target.

The big question going forward, however, isn’t about cutting costs, but about how many copies of the new Windows 7 operating system Microsoft can sell. Here too the news was good.

Deferred revenue came in above analyst expectations because pre-orders of Windows 7, which officially went on sale on October 22, were higher than projected.

The company sold more copies of Windows in the quarter than in any other previous quarter, with sales fueled by demand for Windows 7 and by sales to netbook makers of copies of the older Windows XP operating system.

In the conference call, Microsoft said that it sees the potential for a corporate PC “refresh” beginning in calendar 2010, but expects companies to stretch out their replacement of older PCs (and older operating systems from Microsoft) over a couple of years.

Microsoft also backed up numbers from Intel (INTC), signaling that the PC market could actually show growth of 0% to 2% in calendar 2009. Earlier in the year, market analysts had projected that PC sales would decline again this year. (For another way to play the upturn in PC sales, see my recent buy of Taiwan Semiconductor (NYSE: TSM).)

As of October 23, I’m increasing my target price for Microsoft to $33 by June 2010 from the prior $31 a share.

Full disclosure: I own shares of Microsoft in my personal portfolio.

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