Microsoft (MSFT): the Lance Armstrong of tech stocks?
Like the Tour de France champ, Microsoft has strength and durability. But it isn't winning the races that count.
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Its strong, enduring, even fleet, at times.
But just as the seven-time winner of the Tour de France isn't winning bicycle races these days, neither is Microsoft winning the cutting-edge competitons that count.
Instead, the Redmond, Wash., software giant is doing what traditional companies do, boosting revenue and cutting costs. On that front, it's executing quite well.
Its quarterly earnings report released Thursday after the market's close beat analysts' expectations, both for total sales (a record $16 billion vs. an estimated $15.3 billion) and earnings per share (51 cents vs. a predicted 46 cents). the company successfully launched Office 2010 and has sold 175 million licenses for its Windows 7 operating system. (Apple will have to sell a lot of iPhones 4s to match that.)
But on the frontiers of consumer technology, it's success has been more limited. Its Bing search engine continues to gain market share, but it remains far behind its competitors. Microsoft's online services group lost $696 million for the quarter.
Smartphones? They're all the rage among consumers, but on June 30 Microsoft suddenly abandoned its Kin smartphone that it had launched just weeks earlier. It's Windows smartphone project is still rolling forward, but sales by competitors like Apple and Google are booming. Can Microsoft realistically catch up?
When Apple earlier this year overtook Microsoft in terms of market capitalization, it didn't come as much of a surprise. (With its strong quarter, Microsoft still beat Apple in terms of sales – barely.)
Similarly, the company is moving into cloud computing, where businesses' data and/or applications no longer reside on their own servers. These may one day transform the company into being a cutting-edge contender once again, if cloud computing takes off.
For the moment, though, they're more promise than profit. Before it can turn these projects into big moneymakers, analysts say, Microsoft has several big hills to climb.