Tech Check

Microsoft Ready to Kick It Up a Notch

Microsoft sits in the sweet spot of global economic recovery, but this company still has to outperform Street expectations in order for this stock to really work. At least that's the word from several analysts I'm talking to ahead of the company's second fiscal quarter earnings later today.

Street consensus is 59 cents and $17.9 billion in revenue. But there are some analysts as high as 70 cents a share as consumers ride the Windows 7 upgrade cycle. But as good an opportunity as Microsoft might see right now, Pacific Crest's Brendan Barnicle says it'll likely get even better in the not-to-distant future.

With over 800 million PCs around the world still running Windows XP, at $50 per Windows 7 upgrade, represents another $41 billion in potential revenue. It's like the gift that keeps on giving. "This is when being a monopolist really counts, when all of a sudden everybody's gotta do what you tell 'em," Barnicle tells me. Couple that with that anticipated release of Office 2010, and so many enterprise customers holding off on their Windows 7 upgrades so they can do both installs at the same time, and the next couple of quarters could be very good indeed for Mr. Softy.

The fact is, PC sales are already on the move.

CEO Steve Ballmer made reference to all this during his CES keynote earlier this month. As bad as 2009 was supposed to be, it didn't turn out that way with shipments jumping 22.1 percent from the same period a year ago, according to Gartner. We haven't seen a growth rate like that in 7 years. And for all of 2010, we might see sales pop as much as 12 or 13 percent.

So, what to expect tonight?

Microsoft is clearly the sum of its parts, and while those EPS and revenue numbers will grab the headlines, the deeper story gets told by Microsoft's business units. For the company's Client business, the Street's at $6 billion, Servers $3.8 billion, Online business, home to Bing, which continues to gain marketshare bit by little bit despite the Google juggernaut, should do $581 million, the Microsoft Business Division $4.6 billion, Entertainment and Devices $3.05 billion.

With no meaningful guidance expected, the Street will be paying close attention to any additional cost-cutting, to show that even though former CFO Chris Liddell is now out the door, that Microsoft is still keeping a close eye on expenses. There's also the added pressure of that pesky whisper number. Intel and IBM both showed marked improvements in both the top and bottom lines. Same goes for Google , year over year. The risk for Microsoft of course is that it comes in with a screaming earnings report and suffers the same sell-off fate that befell its big-cap tech brethren. Barnicle for one sees a real risk with that tonight, depending on how big the beat might be, and whether there's any optimistic commentary on the conference call.

Microsoft can be stodgy when it comes to Wall Street.

The company's predictable; its innovations tend to keep to certain schedules; and it tends move more like a turtle than a bunny, especially when compared to some of its other tech peers. But even though it seems slow and steady, tonight's results should show that Microsoft is picking up its pace.

Questions?  Comments?