Shares of Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report , the world's largest software company, will trade ex-dividend on Nov. 17. To qualify for a dividend check this quarter, investors must own shares of Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant on or before that date, when it finalizes the roster of the shareholders to whom it will send payments.
Microsoft didn't get off to a strong start in 2015, but with its shares surging some 14% in the past 30 days, you'll be hard-pressed to find a hotter stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Averages (DJI) . MSFT shares are now up some 15% in 2015, and are up 10% in the past 52 weeks, besting not only the S&P 500 (SPX) during both spans, but also the iShares North American Tech-Software ETF (IGV) - Get Report -- home to prominent software stocks like Oracle (ORCL) - Get Report and Salesforce.com (CRM) - Get Report .
Beyond its stock performance, the maker of Windows and Office also pays a 36-cent quarterly dividend that yields around 2.7% annually, based on the stock's recent price level near $54. The shares -- trading at near tech-bubble highs -- are not cheap, especially with a P/E of 35 -- 15 points higher than the S&P 500's ratio. At the same time, however, Microsoft's dividend yield is higher than the 2% average yield paid out by S&P 500 companies.
Microsoft will send its payout on Dec. 10 to shareholders of record as of Nov. 19. This amounts to a period of roughly three weeks after the record date that investors must hold the stock. If that seems like a long time to wait, consider the long-term premiums of Microsoft, which has a consensus buy rating. With the stock currently trading just below its average analyst 12-month price target of $55, it would seem likely that price target increases are imminent, especially after Microsoft's dominant fiscal first-quarter fiscal 2016 earnings results.
"We think Azure [Microsoft's cloud platform] can generate approximately $2 billion in operating income in fiscal 2018 ... and help propel the commercial cloud segment to $13 billion in gross profit in fiscal 2018," noted a Bank of America/Merrill Lynch analyst, following the earnings results. The firm upgraded Microsoft's rating from neutral to buy and increased its price target to $63, suggesting some 20% gains from current levels.
Accordingly, with Microsoft priced at just 17 times consensus fiscal 2017 earnings estimates of $3.10 a share, investors should buy now. If that estimate is borne out, it would amount to 13% earnings growth, and MSFT is priced in-line with the S&P 500 at a forward P/E of 17, implying excellent value.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.