Microsoft (MSFT) will benefit from its recent acquisition of the handset business of Nokia (NOK) announced this morning. For $5 billion Microsoft adds a $16 billion unit that, while currently losing money, is advancing towards profitability and represents the largest manufacturer of Windows phones. For an additional $2.2 billion Microsoft received a non-exclusive license to Nokia's vast patent portfolio.
To put the acquisition in context, it is useful to review Microsoft's fiscal 2013 performance from a high level. Microsoft turned in a reasonable performance in 2013, earnings $2.61 a share a 30% increase over 2012. Revenues of $77 billion grew 5%.
The results were impaired by a $900 million write down of Surface tablet inventory in the June 30th quarter.
Revenues grew in each segment and income showed gains across the board with the exception of the Windows division which suffered from the inventory write down.
Investors tend to focus on Windows, lamenting the relatively slow take up of Windows 8 and the low sales volumes achieved by the Surface tablet in its first iteration, particularly the Surface RT model. They often overlook the fact that Microsoft Business Division combined with the Server and Tools Division make up some $45 billion in sales and over $24 billion in operating profit and are continuing to grow at about 5% annually.
Despite the Surface RT setback Microsoft made some important strategic moves in the Ballmer era which will provide a growth trajectory for years to come.
With its partnership with Nokia leading the charge, it saw Windows phone market share grow rapidly reaching over 4% by June 30th, 2013, an increase of 77% over 2012. New Lumia phones continue to be launched together with interesting devices from Huawei, Lenovo (OTCPK:LNVGF) and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF). The phones are taking share from Apple (AAPL) and Samsung in certain markets, particularly urban China where market share rose to 5% from 2% in the second half of 2013 while Android phones lost share and iPhone share was flat. The impending introduction of a lower cost iPhone and a possible deal between Apple and China Mobile could impact this trend unfavourably.
Windows phone is also a popular choice in France, where its market share has risen to 9% from about 4% in 2012 while both Android and iOS have given ground
Windows phone profits are more or less a rounding error in Microsoft's results today, but if volumes continue to grow to somewhere north of 100 million devices annually the phone will start to make a measurable contribution to Microsoft results.
Now that Microsoft owns the Nokia handset division it not only has the marketing resources to promote the Lumia line worldwide but also now has the powerful Nokia worldwide distribution system through which it can sell its own line of devices including Surface RT, Surface Pro and Xbox. Stephen Elop joins Microsoft as part of the deal and is a potential candidate for the CEO spot. Whether he becomes CEO or remains involved in the device business remains to be seen, but his addition is a positive for Microsoft, in my opinion.
I expect the Nokia division to at least hold its $16 billion revenues for Microsoft's fiscal 2014 but for its losses to shrink to around $500 million as the mix of sales continues to shift to the higher margin Lumia phones.
Microsoft is making Office 365 a subscription service rather than packaged software, taking advantage of its presence in the Cloud. Office 365 is already making up about 25% of MS Office purchases in the U.S. market and no doubt represents a similar amount abroad. Priced at about $100 for an annual subscription, Office 365 sales will tend to produce lower Microsoft revenues initially as consumers pay only the $100 rather than buying a variant of the Office Suite for considerably more. Over time, however, the subscription revenue will catch up and become "stickier" as MS Office users realize the benefits of having not only online access to the Office Suite of programs but also SkyDrive based Cloud storage of their files and automatic upgrades over the internet.
Microsoft Azure has been gaining ground in the competitive arena of the Cloud, in part because Microsoft is continually rolling out new features such as the recent release of SQL Server AlwaysOn Availability. A must for disaster recovery, this feature provides multiple database failover, replicas and configuration failover policies.
There are a large and growing number of corporations and government agencies are using Microsoft Dynamics for ERP, project management, CRM, retail management and a host of other business activities. Microsoft Business Division has grown organically and through acquisitions since Microsoft entered the space in 2001 with the acquisition of Great Plains software including Great Plains Dynamics and Solomon, followed by the acquisition of Navision. In the 12 years since, Microsoft has integrated these accounting and resource planning platforms into a unified and powerful suite of products serving hundreds of thousands of customers with millions of users with broad functionality. Microsoft competes with Oracle (ORCL), SAP, IBM and salesforce.com (CRM) in this division.
Microsoft's first successful entry into devices is the Xbox product line which has expanded from simply game consoles to become a virtual distribution system for digital content. Over 78 million units of the gaming console have been sold worldwide, making it one of the world's most popular game consoles. With the addition of Xbox Live it became a connected experience allowing gamers to meet online, play over the internet, exchange messages and keep lists of friends. The addition of Xbox SmartGlass made the Xbox a distribution system for music, videos, movies and all forms of digital content on mobile devices as well as through the Xbox console itself. An Xbox music pass allows the user streaming access to the entire library of music available for a flat monthly fee, making it likely to emerge as a meaningful competitor to other digital content distributors such as the iTunes store.
Microsoft's attempted entry into the tablet space has had mixed success. While reviews of the Surface tablet have been generally positive, the device has not gained wide acceptance selling only a few million units since its release and causing Microsoft to take a $900 million inventory write down last quarter. I have a Surface RT and a Surface Pro and my take is that both are excellent devices. The lack of high volume sales likely reflects the relatively high price and intense competition in tablets from Android devices and the iPad. Longer term I expect Microsoft will enjoy more success with this type of product simply because, in my opinion, the device is powerful, functional and fun and will only get better with the new Intel processors being introduced and the proposed improvements to Windows 8 expected before year end. Sales of 4 to 5 million devices are in the ball park of sensibility and, in any event, it is unlikely Microsoft will repeat the mistake of overbuilding leading to an inventory write down.
I expect the device business to be combined with the Nokia operations in an organization change likely to follow closing of the acquisition of the Nokia phone division.
Outlook for 2014
I expect 2014 to be a solid year for Microsoft for several reasons:
- The new Intel Haswell and Silvermont processors and their successors are in my opinion likely to prompt an upgrade cycle once the revised Windows 8 operating system is released and slow or even reverse the pace of decline in conventional personal computers ("PC's");
- Windows phone is gaining traction and I expect will reach volumes that start to have an impact on Microsoft's earnings now that Microsoft owns the Nokia line;
- Microsoft will continue to grow in its Servers & Tools and Microsoft Business Divisions, likely at a rate of 5% to 8% in terms of revenues;
- Office 365 should add materially to its subscriber base given the momentum it has already developed spurred by the recent upgrade to SkyDrive storage now at 25GB;
- The Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets may surprise to the upside as new variants are introduced with longer battery lives and more powerful processors;
- Losses in the online division are declining and may cease to be a drag on earnings; and,
- A new CEO will be in place bring a fresh set of eyes to the challenges Microsoft faces.
Putting numbers on these assumptions, I foresee an earnings statement for Microsoft in its fiscal 2014 with $83 billion in revenue and over $3.00 in earnings per share, as set out in the table below:
Servers & Tools
Entertainment and Games
|Nokia handset business||-||$16,000||-|
Unallocated and other
Entertainment and Games
|Nokia handset business||-||($500)||-|
Unallocated and other
Earnings Per Share
As the market begins to appreciate that Microsoft is more than Windows and is growing, I expect it will be afforded a price to earnings multiple of 13 times to 15 times, giving it a stock price range of $40 to $46 per share. I am long the stock.
Additional disclosure: I hold calls on 10,000 MSFT at a $25.00 strike price with January 2015 maturity.