Microsoft reports its fiscal fourth-quarter results after Thursday's closing bell. Analysts are hoping to get more color on how Microsoft's cloud and AI businesses are shaping up, as well as new details on the layoffs announced earlier this month.
The tech giant is expected to report earnings of 71 cents per share and $24.3 billion in revenue for the quarter. Microsoft doesn't break out results for its Azure cloud product; instead, it falls under the company's Intelligent Cloud unit, which analysts' predict will see sales increase quarter-over-quarter to $7.3 billion. The Productivity and Business Processes segment, which handles LinkedIn, Office 365 and Dynamics customer relationship management software, is also expected to see its sales rise quarter-over-quarter to $8.4 billion.
The company's latest round of annual layoffs were made as part of its effort to increase its focus on cloud services. In June, Microsoft said it would cut a number of employees from its sales group, most of which were located outside the U.S. At the time, it didn't disclose how many employees lost their jobs, but that data could possibly come during the company's earnings call.
Microsoft faces tough competition in the cloud market from rivals Amazon's (AMZN) - Get Report AWS, Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL) - Get Report Google Cloud and IBM (IBM) - Get Report Cloud, but Wall Street continues to believe that the company's Azure product is growing fast.
After surveying a number of executives at large enterprises, Credit Suisse said it found that demand for Azure could be at a positive inflection point. Approximately 40% of respondents said Azure was their preferred cloud vendor, up from 21% six months ago. At 49%, Amazon Web Services was still the most preferred cloud vendor among respondents, but Microsoft isn't far behind. The firm also found that demand for Office 365 and Windows 10 remains steady.
Credit Suisse said that Microsoft has a lot of factors working in its favor relative to competitors, including its large installed base of enterprise customers, existing relationships with "enterprises of all sizes," strong product differentiators (its Azure Stack hybrid cloud offering), a rapidly expanding ecosystem of partners and third-party vendors and continued innovation in hardware and software.
Goldman Sachs analyst Heather Bellini remained similarly bullish about Microsoft's cloud opportunities. Strength in Microsoft's cloud offerings should help bring upside to both its top and bottom line, she added.
"As Azure continues to build scale and O365 commercial dollar growth outpaces legacy declines, we expect gross profit growth to increase 9% in FY18 and to accelerate to 10% growth in FY19; the fastest growth rates we have seen since FY11," Bellini explained.
Bellini said she conducted a survey of CIOs at several companies and the results were better than ever for Microsoft Azure. The same number of CIO respondents said they're currently using Microsoft Azure as AWS, Bellini said, which is a "key milestone" for Azure.
Azure's increasing favorability in the enterprise market could foreshadow a future where it eventually dominates against competitors, namely Amazon. AWS has been in the "pole position" for a long time, having the largest cloud revenue base over the past five years, according to Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brent Bracelin.
Microsoft's Commercial Cloud segment (which includes Azure, Office 365 Cloud and Dynamics) could dominate AWS in terms of revenue as soon as this year, he noted.
"This would firmly mark Microsoft's transition from cloud laggard to cloud leader, in our view," Bracelin said.
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