Chris Lau, Kapitall: Bing is still in a distant second, although its ad revenue surged noticeably in Q1. Could it ever catch Google? 

Microsoft’s (MSFT) slow, but long game of catch-up in the growth markets is finally beginning to tilt in its favor. In its last quarter, revenue rose with Bing, a search engine that was thought to be uncompetitive. Should investors start valuing Microsoft at levels similar to that of Google (GOOG) or Yahoo (YHOO)?

Google has a price to earnings ratio (P/E) of 29.5, while Yahoo’s P/E is 28. Microsoft is valued at multiples less than half that of these search engines.

Bing searches and finds ad revenue

In the first quarter of Microsoft's 2014 financial year, advertising revenue from Bing grew 47%. Higher search query volumes attract ad dollars, allowing the company to earn more revenue per search. In all, the Devices and Consumer (D&C) division generated revenue of $1.635 billion, up 17%.

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Meanwhile Google earned $10.74 per share, much higher than then $8.87 per share earned last year, in part due to a new advertising system called Enhanced Campaigns, launched over the summer. Even with advertising revenue as high as it is, Google still grew gross ad revenue by 17%. The update ensures that Google’s ads will be displayed in the appropriate channels, be it desktop or mobile.

Click on the interactive charts below to view stock prices and quarterly sales over time.

Other projects in the pipeline

However Microsoft has other, bigger plans besides transforming Bing. For one there's Office 365 Home Premium, which gives users productivity software on the cloud, sells for $99 per year for up to five PCs or Macs, and five mobile devices. Microsoft now has over 2 million subscribers, double the number from May 2013.

Windows OS lags

In its Windows Division, revenue grew by 4% to $4.58 billion, but operating income dropped 20% to $2.24 billion. Weak demand for Microsoft’s latest operating system could be hurting results.

While the company hoped that growth would resume as users transitioned from Windows XP, Vista, and 7 to Windows 8 and 8.1, it appears that may not be happening. Strong demand for Android and Apple (AAPL) tablets is likely weighing on Windows 8 demand.

Bottom line

Microsoft is not likely to command the same multiples as Google or Yahoo, even though Bing now has 18% of the search engine share in the United States.

Still, new products from its other divisions should at least support its current share price. The upcoming Xbox One launch is set to support Xbox Live transitions. Even if the launch is met with light demand, the Xbox 360 is still popular. Between July and September, 1.2 million Xbox 360s were sold.​


(Written by Chris Lau, a Kapitall contributor. All data sourced from Zacks Investment Research.)