Microsoft (MSFT) has become the company tech investors love to hate.
The company's P/E of 14.69, which is about average for an S&P 500 stock, masks the extraordinary charges in the second quarter, when the company wrote off its aQuantive ad network. Had the company even had an average quarter for June, you would have trailing years' earnings of $2.50/share, a P/E lower than that of Ford (F). Plus, there's over $66 billion in cash on the balance sheet -- take that out and the price is a snip.
But investors aren't buying that story anymore. The stock is back to the levels of the first of the year, before Windows 8 was rolled out. Since its peak in April it's down 16%. And did I mention the 3.38% yield?
That said, the reason investors are fleeing Microsoft makes sense. They see the ads for Windows 8, they've gone into the stores, and they've seen the Microsoft products languishing on the shelves. They've read the tweets and seen the reviews. They think Windows 8 does something that rhymes with trucks, and that it's not rolling out as expected.
I could argue that most software is seen in a negative light when it first comes out, that even Apple (AAPL) has its share of negative reviews, and that a new user interface always takes some time to learn and get used to. But instead I'm going to talk about the cloud.
When I write about cloud, I seldom mention Microsoft Azure. But Azure is a pretty good cloud, with decent price performance. And according to a recent survey by Forrester Research, which tracks corporate computing professionals, it's getting strong reviews there.
As per the survey, Azure is currently doing as well as Google (GOOG) cloud services, and a full 20% expect their usage of it to grow over the next year. The reason: It's easy to set up and easy to use. If you know Windows, you're halfway there -- you can bring all your existing tools and skills to the party.
This is important stuff, because the next big step for the cloud market is the move from cloud infrastructures to cloud platforms. If Microsoft can make the jump, with anything like its current market share as a cloud platform and if its languages and other tools can be seen as the easy way to build cloud applications, that is a huge leg up in the market. And hidden within Windows8 are all the tools you need -- both you and your employees -- to build and deploy cloud applications on Azure.
So you've got a dirt cheap stock with a leg up on the cloud market of 2013. Is that worth an implied P/E of 7 when you also get $66 billion in cash? At this point, Microsoft is as discounted as it is going to get. It's beyond cheap here.