Microsoft Is a Buy Before Earnings Release

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Ready or not, the first technology earnings season of 2013 has arrived. Investors will focus on the companies reporting next week for insight into the health of the economy, as well as clues about what we should expect from the long line of earnings reports.

If earnings season is anything, it's volatility on overdrive. Prodigious peril and rewards await at every step of the way, and if you don't have your game plan ready along with the mental fortitude to execute flawlessly, you become roadkill fast.

We can't look at the numbers ahead of time, but that doesn't mean we are left entirely in the dark. The most beneficial tools I use to help guide my way are daily and weekly charts. By looking at the historical performance based on past earnings misses and beats, we achieve a better understanding of what to expect in terms of price movement for any given result.

MSFT Chart MSFT data by YCharts

Microsoft ( MSFT)Microsoft Corporation develops, licenses, and supports a range of software products and services for various computing devices worldwide.

52-Week Range: $26.26 to $32.89

Price-to-Book: 3.3

Investors are looking forward to improving third-quarter earnings after the market closes on April 18. The consensus opinion is currently 76 cents a share, a progression of 16 cents (21%) from 60 cents during the corresponding period last year. The lowest analyst estimate is 61 cents per share, and the highest is 82 cents.

Analysts, as a whole, like this company. Currently, Microsoft has 23 buy recommendations out of 38 analysts covering the company, along with 15 holds, and none of the analysts give a sell rating. The average analyst target price for Microsoft is $32.85.

After the recent strong surge in share price that blasted through the 200-day moving average, the shares settled back lower to retest the widely followed indicator. I believe this is a base of support and Microsoft is a buy in front of earnings. The dividend is the key safety net for holding long.

Investors are receiving 92 cents in dividends for a yield of 3.2%. The forward payout ratio is less than 40%. Once you combine the relatively low payout ratio with the historical rises in dividend payments, you are looking at a stock that you can take a chance with. If reported earnings fall short of expectations, the oversized dividend provides cover.

Microsoft has almost no short-seller interest, and the few shares that are shorted lack a meaningful influence at only 1.4% of the average trading float.

The last time Microsoft disappointed investors was two quarters ago. After releasing the results on Oct. 18, 2012, shares slid about 5% before recovering. About a week later, shares fell again, but have since recovered.

Oracle's ( ORCL) results give us a look at what Mircosoft faces. Oracle didn't inspire shareholders about two weeks ago with its lukewarm results. Oracle's investors focused on the shift into cloud computing and concern over lower-cost solutions. For example, NoSQL may be gaining acceptance and could impact Microsoft's enterprise-level SQL database products.

Oracle doesn't have nearly the cloud presence that Microsoft has built over the years. Regardless, if Microsoft isn't able to monetize cloud computing as well as its traditional software products, margins and earnings may come under pressure.

Unlike Oracle, Microsoft has many irons in the fire and enjoys greater diversification and profit streams. For these reasons, I am bullish on Microsoft. I anticipate earnings to top 75 cents per share.

Look for option premium increases, although they should remain relatively low compared to other technology companies into the earnings release. If you're considering adding Microsoft, you may want to look at the April $30 put options that expire on Friday. Microsoft's April 12 closing price was $28.79, and the $30 puts can be sold for about $1.33.

You can shave about a dime off the cost of your shares, and more importantly, reduce your overall risk by about 5%. Using options only works in this case if you have low-cost commissions. Otherwise, you're probably better off sticking with the actual stock.

MSFT Revenue Quarterly Chart MSFT Revenue Quarterly data by YCharts

Disclosure: The writer holds no securities mentioned in this article.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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