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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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July 16, 2008 10:39 PM

Microsoft Q4 earnings preview

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft reports earnings for the fiscal 2008 fourth quarter and full year Thursday. It will also sharpen its forecast for the current quarter and fiscal year against a backdrop of grim developments in the broader economy.

At the same time, the ongoing pursuit of Yahoo could be coming to a climax in two weeks at Yahoo's shareholder meeting. But the drama that has unfolded in the last five and a half months has put an anchor on Microsoft's stock and called the company's online strategy into question.

So what are analysts expecting and watching for Thursday?

Despite the hubbub around online services and advertising, Microsoft still gets most of its revenue and profit selling software to big businesses. In general, analysts are seeing "tightening IT budgets," as FBR put it in a note to clients previewing the coming round of earnings reports.

"We think customers are going to increase their scrutiny of IT purchases given the lingering negative sentiment for the economy and the seasonally slow nature of the September quarter. Although the June quarter should be good overall, we think that investors will focus on the management's financial guidance and sentiment for the back half of 2008."

On the top of the list of things chief information officers are planning to delay as they evaluate their budgets: Windows Vista and Office 2007, according to research by Goldman Sachs.

FBR, for one, sees Microsoft as an appropriate "defensive" stock pick at the moment. It has all the attributes the analysts are looking for in the current climate:

-- "high levels of recurring revenues"

-- "significant exposure to international markets"
-- "beaten-down valuations"

On the other hand, "Microsoft's defensiveness," according to Goldman Sachs analysts, has been overshadowed by market speculation around the company's continued interest in consummating some sort of acquisition (asset purchase or outright purchase) of Yahoo!"

In a note to investors last week, Goldman analysts estimated Microsoft would have revenue of $15.48 billion earnings per share of 47 cents. The company's latest guidance for the quarter was revenue between $15.5 and $15.8 billion, and earnings of 45 to 48 cents a share.

FBR's analysts see a "good possibility" that Microsoft will report fourth-quarter revenue ahead of forecasts and beat Wall Street consensus earnings of 47 cents a share.

The tech beat is on already this week with Intel reporting second-quarter profit Tuesday of $1.6 billion, or 28 cents per share, 3 cents per share higher than expected.

With all the attention we've been paying to video games this week, it's worth noting that FBR thinks Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division could post a quarterly loss because, the analysts believe, the Xbox 360 console is still sold at a loss. The division is still on track to show it's first full fiscal year of profitability.

Goldman analysts, by contrast, said a recent visit with Microsoft's CFO and division heads "suggested strength" in the Server and Tools and Entertainment and Devices divisions.

We'll get more data on the games industry Thursday as well with the release of NPD Group's June report.

Check back here for those figures, as well as a full run down of Microsoft's earnings report at about 2:30 p.m. You can also tune in to the Web cast yourself here.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough tech news for one day, Google also reports second-quarter earnings Thursday at 1:30 p.m.

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