NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report , the world's largest software company, is off to a bad start this year. Though its shares surprised investors in 2014 with 24% gains, Microsoft has wallowed in negative territory since New Year's, down 6.5%. That makes it the third worst-performing stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) .
But investors should be piling in. I don't see a scenario where Microsoft, which pays a hefty dividend yield of 2.85%, will end 2015 down. Despite its recent downbeat fiscal second-quarter results and gloomy guidance, made worse by headwinds from the strong U.S. dollar, analysts are broadly positive about Microsoft's direction.
The long-term personal computer market remains a pressing issue, though PC shipments rose for the first time in two years last quarter. But the arrival of Satya Nadella in the CEO's office has instilled a level of confidence not seen since Bill Gates was at the helm. For those reason, and others, analysts are giving the Redmond, Wash.-based company the benefit of the doubt.
The shares have a consensus buy rating, and Microsoft's earnings are expected to grow at a 10% annual rate of in the next five years. These figures look conservative, however, given how effectively Microsoft is pushing ahead with its cloud strategy. The company has begun to show meaningful progress in its transformation from an old-school software seller focused on Windows and Office licenses -- still its biggest revenue and profit drivers -- to a cloud-based business that can compete with the likes of Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report and Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get Report .
In the most recent quarter, for instance, Microsoft's commercial cloud revenue surged 114% year-over-year. Nadella cited stronger-than-expected demand for Office 365, Azure and Dynamic CRM Online as key drivers of that growth. Not only did this mark the sixth consecutive quarter of triple-digit cloud revenue growth, the company has established an annualized revenue run rate of $5.5 billion for its commercial cloud business.
In total, Microsoft recorded $26.5 billion in total revenue in the second quarter of fiscal 2015, and Nadella says he expects continued progress toward becoming "the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world."
To date, Microsoft's mobile offerings have struggled to compete against Apple's (AAPL) - Get Report iPhones and Google's (GOOG) - Get Report Android devices. But if the company can keep making huge leaps in the cloud, its mobile deficits will start to matter less.
All told, the company is showing it can innovate by creating the type of value-added services to grow beyond just Office and Windows. This is important because market research firm International Data Corporation expects the cloud market to hit a record $118 billion in 2015. And by 2018, the firm says the market will surge another 70%, reaching $200 billion.
Based on its average analyst 12-month price target of $50, at its current price of around $43.50, Microsoft is a buy. Its new "cloud-first mentality" has come at the right time, ensuring its growth for the next five years. And with the stock down almost 7% on the year, smart investors should scoop up some shares now.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held shares of Apple.