I have a Hold investment rating for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT). In my previous January 31, 2022 update for MSFT, I evaluated the company's most recent Q2 FY 2022 (YE June 30) earnings.
For the current article, I did an assessment of the pros and cons of investing in Microsoft stock and reviewed its valuations from various perspectives. My analysis leads me to the conclusion that a Hold rating for MSFT is warranted.
I discussed MSFT's key financial metrics relating to its Q2 FY 2022 results and Q3 FY 2022 guidance in my earlier article for the company published at the end of January. In this latest article, I focus on how Microsoft compares against its other FAANGM peers.
Peer Comparison For Microsoft
|Stock||Consensus Forward Next Twelve Months' Normalized P/E Multiple||Consensus Forward Next Twelve Months' EV/EBITDA Multiple||Consensus Forward Next Twelve Months' Enterprise Value-to-Revenue Multiple||Consensus Forward One Fiscal Year Revenue Growth Metric||Consensus Forward Two Fiscal Years Revenue Growth Metric||Consensus Forward One Fiscal Year ROE Metric||Consensus Forward Two Fiscal Years ROE Metric|
|Meta Platforms, Inc. (FB)||16.4||8.6||3.9||+12.2%||+17.1%||26.1%||24.5%|
|Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) (GOOG)||23.0||13.6||5.5||+17.8%||+15.8%||28.3%||27.7%|
|Apple Inc. (AAPL)||25.6||19.0||6.2||+8.1%||+5.7%||145.8%||130.9%|
|Netflix, Inc. (NFLX)||32.1||23.2||5.1||+12.5%||+12.9%||29.9%||28.1%|
|Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)||62.2||19.1||3.0||+15.1%||+17.1%||16.8%||19.0%|
Source: S&P Capital IQ
Microsoft's forward P/E valuation is right in the middle of the pack when compared to its FAANGM peers. This appears to be aligned with expectations that MSFT's forward two fiscal years revenue growth is ranked fourth in this group of six companies.
On the flip side, MSFT's forward Enterprise Value-to-Revenue and EV/EBITDA multiples are the most expensive and the second most expensive in the peer group, respectively. But Microsoft's expected ROEs for the next two years are the second highest among its FAANGM peers, which seems to provide support for the stock's relatively higher Enterprise Value-to-Revenue and EV/EBITDA valuations.
In summary, the peer comparison above suggests that Microsoft's valuations are relatively fair, and there does not seem to be a mismatch between its valuation multiples and its key forward-looking financial metrics (revenue growth and ROE).
I think that the pros of buying Microsoft stock include its high degree of revenue predictability, the long growth runway for Azure, and its intelligent use of share buybacks.
Microsoft boasts a high degree of revenue visibility and predictability, and there are a number of key indicators supporting this assertion.
Firstly, MSFT revealed at its most recent Q2 FY 2022 earnings call on January 25, 2022 that its "commercial remaining performance obligation increased 31% and 32% in constant currency to $147 billion" and guided that "roughly 45% will be recognized in revenue in the next 12 months." It also disclosed that its "annuity mix (for Microsoft Cloud) increased one point year-over-year to 94%." In other words, Microsoft boasts significant contractual recurring revenue streams which is a key positive for the stock.
In its Q2 FY 2022 10-Q filing, Microsoft noted that commercial remaining performance obligation includes "unearned revenue and amounts that will be invoiced and recognized as revenue in future periods." It also highlighted in its recent 10-Q filing that Microsoft Cloud refers to "Azure and other cloud services, Office 365 Commercial, the commercial portion of LinkedIn, Dynamics 365, and other commercial cloud properties."
Secondly, Microsoft has exceeded market expectations in relation to its revenue growth for 15 of the past 16 quarters as per the chart below. For the single quarter (quarter ended December 2018) that MSFT suffered from a revenue miss, the company's actual revenue only came in -0.1% below the sell-side's consensus top line forecast.
Microsoft's Quarterly Revenue Surprise
Thirdly, the market values Microsoft at a consensus forward next twelve months' Enterprise Value-to-Revenue multiple of 10.2 times which is the highest among the FAANGM companies as I highlighted in the prior section. Although MSFT's forward revenue growth rates are not the fastest in the FAANGM peer group, it is reasonable to assume that the market is willing to assign a relatively high Enterprise Value-to-Revenue valuation multiple to MSFT because of its revenue predictability and visibility.
Azure is referred to as "Microsoft's public cloud computing platform" by TechTarget, Inc. (TTGT). On its website, MSFT describes Azure as "a platform" comprising over "200 products and cloud services" to assist companies to "build, run, and manage applications across multiple clouds, on-premises, and at the edge." In Q2 FY 2022, Microsoft's Intelligent Cloud business was the fastest growing of the company's three key segments boasting a YoY constant-currency growth of +26%. Within the Intelligent Cloud segment, Azure was the star with its revenue up +46% YoY in the recent quarter.
Looking forward, Azure has a long growth runway ahead considering the industry's growth prospects and its market share gains. Gartner, Inc. (IT) forecasts that the cloud will represent 51% of information technology spend for the "application software, infrastructure software, business process services and system infrastructure markets" by 2025 as compared to a 41% contribution in 2022. Gartner also predicts that the proportion of "new workloads deployed in a cloud-native environment" will rise from 30% in 2021 to 95% in 2025.
Microsoft's Azure is in a good position to benefit from the growth of the cloud market given that it has been a share gainer in the past few years.
According to data from Synergy Research Group cited in a Holori article, Azure's "cloud provider market share" has almost doubled from 10% to close to 20% between 2017 and 2020. During this same period, market leader AWS' market share has been relatively stable in the low 30s percentage range. Azure might have been able to gain significant market share over the last couple of years because of its attractive value proposition. MSFT claims that "AWS is 5 times more expensive than Azure for Windows Server and SQL Server" after taking into account the "Azure Hybrid Benefit" which allows companies to "use your on-premises Software Assurance-enabled Windows Server and SQL Server licenses on Azure."
An Example Of Cost Savings With Azure Hybrid Benefit
Microsoft announced its latest $60 billion share buyback program in September last year. As a comparison, MSFT had a relatively lower share repurchase authorization of $40 billion for its prior share repurchase programs in 2013, 2016, and 2019, respectively.
A review of Microsoft's past share buybacks suggests that the company's most significant share repurchases in recent years occurred in the third quarter of fiscal 2015 (first quarter of calendar year 2015) where it bought back approximately 1.4% of its outstanding shares in that quarter. MSFT's shares declined by -18% from $49.46 as of November 17, 2014 to as low as $40.66 as of March 31, 2015, and this could have promoted the company to buy back its shares more aggressively. Microsoft's stock price subsequently rebounded to $44.15 as of June 30, 2015, and eventually closed the year at a much higher price of $55.48 as of December 31, 2015.
In other words, it is clear that Microsoft views share repurchases as both a means of returning excess capital to its shareholders, and an opportunity to boost shareholder value by engaging in opportunistic buybacks when its share price is depressed.
With its shares having corrected by -16% from its all-time high of $349.67 recorded during intra-day trading on November 22, 2021 to $294.39 as of March 16, 2022, it is possible that Microsoft accelerates its pace of share buybacks in subsequent quarters which will provide support for its stock price. As a reference, MSFT bought a modest 0.3% of its outstanding shares in the recent second quarter of fiscal 2022.
I highlight the potential risks and negative factors for MSFT in the next section.
I am of the view that the cons of buying Microsoft stock would include stiff competition with the other FAANGM companies, the risk of earnings misses due to weaker-than-expected margin expansion, and the potential pivot away from enterprise markets to consumer markets.
Microsoft competes with the other internet giants in many business areas, and if there is any indicator that MSFT is losing ground with its FAANGM peers, investors might feel compelled to switch to the other FAANGM stocks.
One key area to watch is that Microsoft has a limited direct presence in the mobile market unlike its key FAANGM peers like Alphabet and Apple which dominate the mobile application ecosystem. As an example, Apple's recent iOS privacy changes have hurt the performance of another FAANGM name, Meta Platforms, and this points to the vulnerability of certain other companies with respect to their reliance on Apple's mobile operating system.
Another key issue to monitor is the market share of Amazon AWS in the cloud market. Although Azure has been gaining market share at the expense of other smaller rivals in recent years, AWS' market share has remained relatively stable. This implies that AWS' dominance of the cloud market puts some form of a cap or ceiling on Azure's future revenue growth and eventual scale.
More importantly, the lines between the FAANGM companies are blurring, and more of them are entering similar business areas and trying to capitalize on the same growth trends such as the Metaverse. Moving ahead, the internet giants could be directly competing with each other even more often than one would expect.
Market consensus expects Microsoft's EBIT margin to increase from 41.6% in fiscal 2021 to 42.4% in FY 2022, before further expanding to 42.8% and 43.9% for FY 2023 and FY 2024, respectively as per S&P Capital IQ data. This is largely based on assumptions of growing scale for some of its key fast-growing businesses like Azure which brings about positive operating leverage effects.
I noted MSFT's "weaker-than-expected profitability guidance" for the third quarter of fiscal 2022 in my previous January 31, 2022 article. If Microsoft increases its capital expenditures to support future growth, and fails to optimize costs for some of its more mature businesses or upsell a significant proportion of its clients, the company might disappoint the market in terms of its future profit margins.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, Microsoft's expected ROEs are the second highest among the FAANGM companies, and this allows the stock to trade at premium EV/EBITDA and Enterprise Value-to-Revenue multiples. Lower-than-expected profit margins (and consequently ROE) could possibly lead to a valuation de-rating for Microsoft's shares going forward.
The good financial and stock price performance of Microsoft in recent years is largely attributable to the company's success in enterprise markets. In contrast, most of MSFT's past forays into the consumer markets such as Groove Music and the Windows Phone have been disappointments, though it has done reasonably well with Xbox and Surface.
In my earlier update, I specifically mentioned Microsoft's "proposed acquisition of Activision Blizzard" and noted that this could help to drive the growth of the company in the consumer gaming market. But there are naturally concerns that whether the integration of such a substantial acquisition will divert management attention from its growth opportunities in enterprise markets like Azure. Also, it is uncertain if the Activision deal could be a sign of further M&A or increased organic investments in the consumer space.
In the subsequent section, I sum up my thoughts on the appeal of Microsoft as a potential investment candidate.
MSFT stock is worthy of investment if it is undervalued, but I don't think this is the case at current price levels for the company.
I did an analysis of MSFT's valuations in a prior section of the article. The peer comparison exercise suggests that Microsoft's forward Enterprise Value-to-Revenue, EV/EBITDA and normalized P/E multiples are fair as compared with the other FAANGM companies.
Microsoft also appears to be fairly valued when I compare its current valuation metrics with its historical averages. MSFT's current valuation multiples are close to its three-year mean as per the table presented below.
A Comparison Of Microsoft's Valuations Against History
|Metric||Consensus Forward Next Twelve Months' Normalized P/E Multiple||Consensus Forward Next Twelve Months' EV/EBITDA Multiple||Consensus Forward Next Twelve Months' Enterprise Value-to-Revenue Multiple|
|Microsoft's current valuation multiples as of March 16, 2022||29.8||20.4||10.2|
|Microsoft's three-year average valuation multiples||30.7||20.1||9.3|
Source: S&P Capital IQ
Separately, MSFT's PEG ratio is 1.5 times based on a forward P/E of 29.8 times and a consensus EPS CAGR of +20% for the FY 2022-2026 period as per S&P Capital IQ data. A PEG ratio of 1.5 times is generally considered as a sign of overvaluation for most stocks (with PEG ratio of 1 times implying fair valuation). Even if I accept that Microsoft deserves to trade at a higher PEG given its high ROEs, MSFT is at most fairly valued rather than undervalued.
The bottom line is that Microsoft is a Hold after assessing the investment merits and risk factors for the stock and comparing its valuation against FAANGM peers and history.