Microsoft-Google Reversal May Be Coming

| About: Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

For the year so far, Microsoft (MSFT) has been doing much better than Google (GOOG), up 13% while Google is down about 10%.

But that may be ready to reverse.

Why? Microsoft Office. Office has traditionally been sold as a DVD, and prices can run to several hundred dollars. This gave a huge boost to Microsoft earnings with each new release.

That may well change with Office 15 which the company is announcing today. Microsoft is emphasizing cloud versions of the software, targeting smaller enterprises, and while that can bring in steady revenue over time, it doesn't give the hit to earnings a standard software release does.

Besides, Office in the cloud is a more competitive market than Office by itself. Office by itself competed only with free products like Open Office (which I use) and Libre Office. Office in the cloud is going to have to compete with Google.

It's not just a question of Google gaining share at Microsoft's expense, but the impact on Microsoft's margins. Google Apps can cost just $50/year, less if purchased through a reseller. This puts a ceiling on the price Microsoft can charge for an online version of Office.

This is a very big deal. Office is estimated to have generated $11.6 billion in profits for Microsoft during the last nine months alone, according to the Gartner Group. Microsoft had about $17.4 billion in net income from all sources during that period.

Google has been competing in this area, and threatening Microsoft profits, since 2008. It has generally failed to do much over this time, but once you move into cloud you're talking about Google's wheelhouse, an area where Microsoft is still struggling to gain traction.

Investors need to examine Microsoft's next quarterly statements very closely to see the contribution Office continues to make to the company's bottom line. If that momentum slows it will be a very bearish signal, no matter how good it's doing in video games.

Disclosure: I am long GOOG, MSFT.

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