Revenue from Microsoft's cloud computing service Azure are growing "close to triple digits," while the pipeline for Office 365 remains robust. Windows has enjoyed "better-than-expected" staying power, too.
All that combined suggests Microsoft stock deserves an "overweight" rating, Piper Jaffray said in a note on Monday, Jan. 8. The analysts assigned a $115 price target to shares, which implies a 30% upside over the next year. In three years, Microsoft stock could trade as high as $167, analysts forecast.
"Looking to the year-end, we continue to expect Azure and Office to be the most important focus areas from a stock perspective," analysts noted. "We believe Azure represents the single largest growth opportunity at the company while Office 365's competitive position combined with current margin profile represent the single largest earnings drivers for the company."
Azure recently released Azure Stack, a hybrid cloud computing platform that allows users to deliver Azure services from their organization's datacenter. "Interestingly, our proprietary CIO survey also indicates that an incredible 72% of Azure customers see themselves deploying workloads in Azure Stack over the next three years, which is our strongest indication yet that this product has significant potential," Piper Jaffray added.
Azure is Microsoft's competitive answer to Amazon.com Inc.'s (AMZN) - Get Report Amazon Web Services. AWS hasn't been the top choice for a number of chief information officers Piper Jaffray interviewed for two reasons: first, some firms are uneasy at the thought of handing over sensitive data to Amazon, which has become a direct competitor in numerous sectors; and second, those companies don't want to directly fund a competitor.
That means Microsoft could win a large portion of the cloud services business, particularly in retail and pharmaceutical industries where the threat of Amazon's encroachment is largest.
Additionally, Microsoft is set to benefit from tax reform and, subsequently, more favorable rates for cash repatriation.
But don't expect a big deal to follow Microsoft's more flexible cash position. Piper Jaffray said the company is still digesting its 2016 acquisition of LinkedIn. It won't increase deal activity until after that asset is "well integrated and well monetized long-term."
Instead, Microsoft will focus its windfall from an improved tax environment on share buybacks, analysts noted. Should Microsoft return to a more aggressive $16 billion in annual share buybacks from its current $8 billion per year, it could retire about 2% of shares annually.
Microsoft stock rose 0.2% to $88.39 on Monday.
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