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Microsoft's 'Blowout Quarter' Proved Nothing

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Some sense of relief among Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) investors rose when embattled former boss Steve Ballmer announced he was retiring. Given that Microsoft had lost close to half of its value under Ballmer, there was sense that, "The next guys can't be worse."

While it's still too early to think about the approval rating of new CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft's fiscal third-quarter results show that there are no quick fixes in getting this once high-flyer back to growth.

(The Street can cheer the company's revenue and earnings beat all it wants.)

From my vantage point, Microsoft jumped over a low bar. But is that enough to bet on the stock?

Thursday, the software giant posted revenue of $20.4 billion, "flat" according to some analysts. In actual performance, last year's business of $20.49 billion almost mirrors the year-over-year decline of less than half of 1%.

This tells me right away how badly the Street wants to give Nadella the benefit of the doubt. Had it been Ballmer on the call, whom the Street cared very little for, the headlines would have been different.

It's nonetheless encouraging that Microsoft posted revenue gains from its dominant Windows franchise, which many had feared was in decline. And when you factor the improvements in cloud computing services like Azure, it does show that Microsoft's transition from a PC-dependent business is taking shape.

Revenue from devices and consumer products rose 12% to $8.30 billion. Microsoft, which is in a neck-and-neck battle with Sony (SNE), sold more Xbox One game consoles than expected. The company also benefited from consumers upgrading their systems from Windows XP to Windows 8.

In my opinion that's as far as the good news went. Although revenue from various segments gained $1.7 billion, this was negated by a $1.8 billion decline in revenue from upgrade offers. In all, the company's profits declined 5.5% to $5.66 million, or 68 cents per share. That's down year-over-year from $6.06 billion, or 72 cents per share.

Granted, the results beat analyst expectations. Again, how far Microsoft has fallen. On the conference call, Nadella said all of the right things, including furthering plans to reorganize the structure of his leadership. I will credit the company's board for finally realizing that a change was necessary. But I wouldn't get too carried away here with the company's new direction. It's still unclear.

Although products like Office, Windows and the Server business remain strong performers, going forward, I'm more interested to know how Nadella plans to to attack new growth areas like the Cloud, where  Amazon (AMZN) and Google (GOOG) (among others) have dominant market positions. And with Apple (AAPL) gaining more traction in the enterprise, Microsoft need to quickly supplement what Office and Windows currently produce.

If Nadella can achieve gains in these areas, while reviving underutilized/poorly-marketed assets like Skype, only then will a "new Microsoft" emerge. With more than $80 billion in cash on the balance sheet, Microsoft is not going to die tomorrow. Nadella will be given more than enough time to execute this turnaround. But from the standpoint of a "blowout quarter," this wasn't it.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL and held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.


This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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