Microsoft bests earnings estimates as Azure posts 51% growth; shares fall

Today after the bell, Microsoft reported its fiscal Q4 2021 earnings, the period corresponding to the second calendar quarter of this year. Microsoft posted revenues of $46.2 billion in the period, along with net income of $16.5 billion and earnings per share of $2.17. The company’s revenues grew by 21% compared to the year-ago quarter, while its net income expanded by a more toothsome 47% over the same time frame.

The company’s results beat expectations, which Yahoo Finance reports were revenues of $44.1 billion and earnings per share of $1.90. Shares of the software giant fell after the news, perhaps due to the company’s results missing so-called whisper numbers; that Microsoft has traded at or near all-time highs in recent sessions puts the current 3% after-hours drop into context. Tech shares were broadly weaker in regular trading today, a session in which Microsoft shed just under 1% of its worth.

Microsoft is so large a company that its top-level results are hardly clear, so let’s dig in a little more.

First up, Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, posted 51% revenue growth in the quarter compared to the corresponding year-ago quarter, a figure that would dip to 45% if one was to remove currency fluctuations, according to the company. The 51% figure, per initial analysis, is the company’s best Azure growth result since its fiscal Q3 2020 quarter, or the first calendar quarter of last year.

From that perspective, it’s hard to fault Azure’s growth over the last three months.

Picking through the rest of the company’s results, we can rank its three main divisions’ revenue growth results as follows:

  • Intelligent Cloud: 30% growth, a figure driven in part by Azure’s growth.
  • Productivity and Business Processes: 21% growth, led by LinkedIn (46% growth), and the Dynamics 365 CRM product (49% growth).
  • More Personal Computing: 9% growth, led by search growth (53%, excluding traffic acquisition costs).

The weaker spots in the larger Redmond revenue review are not hard to spot. Office Consumer revenue expanded by 18%, a figure that feels somewhat modest; Windows OEM revenue slipped by 3%; and Surface revenue fell 20%.

But those lowlights were not enough to derail the company’s aggregate growth picture and titanic profitability. How profitable is Satya Nadella’s company? Microsoft spent $10.4 billion on share buybacks and dividends in its most recent quarter. That’s a somewhat confusing amount of money, frankly. And at this point, we’re a bit flummoxed why Microsoft is buying back shares. Its market capitalization is a bit more than $2 trillion, implying that at best the company can gently chip away at its share count over time at huge expense. Surely there is a better use for its cash?

Regardless, the company’s results indicate that the recent run of big technology companies posting impressively large and lucrative results is not behind us. That may help provide investor confidence for technology companies more broadly. Which, you know, would not be a bad thing for startups.