The constant chatter from analysts produces a thick mass of white noise, a deep static that nearly obliterates the very meaning of words. It's just another salvo of comments from analysts, who many investors blame for their losses. But every once in a while, a comment juts out at a right angle, sounds an alarm and slices through the patter.
Rick Sherlund did just that when talking about
future. His note this morning to investors, taken on face value, was typical. He announced that he was guiding his 2001 and 2002 fiscal earnings per share estimates lower, citing weakness in the PC sector that Microsoft has a great deal of exposure to since it bundles Windows with new computers.
Sherlund now expects the company to come in with revenue that is down 10% from the previous quarter. He dropped his 2001 earnings expectations to $1.75 a share from $1.78 a share, and 2002 expectations to $1.75 from $1.86.
There. Right there. Sherlund's revised 2002 estimate. After what seemed like a rather innocuous earnings revision, the comment stuck out like Joe Theismann's shinbone. Sherlund doesn't think that Microsoft will have any growth in 2001 or 2002. And no growth means no story. And no story means no reason to snap up Microsoft stock.
"We have estimated flat to down (earnings) for each of the next four quarters and flat (earnings) for fiscal 2002," he wrote. "We believe investors may become more positive on the stock if indeed much of the bad news is now out."
So the bad news is out. Do you feel any better?
Probably not, since the company's stock is off $69 from its all-time high, having fallen 58% in the past 16 months. It closed yesterday at $50.06. Sherlund didn't rule out the possibility that some catalysts could bump up the company's stock in the next two years, but he's certainly not counting on it. "Catalysts going forward may be a potentially more favorable resolution of the antitrust case, the planned June launch of Office XP, and the planned December quarter launch of Windows XP," he wrote. He maintained his rating of market outperformer on the stock.
But as Sherlund sees it, growth is still flat for the next four quarters or so.