For all the doom and gloom surrounding Microsoft, the software giant's critics conveniently overlook one simple fact: This company is generating cash faster than ever, and with its most recent fiscal year completed, Microsoft has another record-breaking year on the books.
We won't know for sure until Thursday how Microsoft's fourth fiscal quarter and full year look. But analyst averages put yearly growth at about 9 percent, with record fiscal earnings and fourth-quarter revenues of $17.2 billion; that's up from $16 billion in the same quarter one year ago.
If Microsoft does hit the expected $22 billion in net profit for the year, that will be a record. Also, expected annual revenues could come close to $70 billion, also a record, and above the annual revenues of Apple.
The bad news? As always, Microsoft's stock has been mired in the mid-$20s all year.
The issue for the stock, apparently, is growth: Microsoft is no longer a fast-growth company but is instead a stable, mature, and slow-moving giant. And while it will continue to generate enormous profits and revenues, Microsoft no longer captures the imagination of Wall Street. That magic belongs to faster-moving, consumer-oriented companies such as Apple and younger tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
Not helping are PC sales, which are still growing—but slowly. PC sales grew just 2.45 percent in the second calendar quarter of 2011, well below the 6+ percent growth that was previously expected. But PC sales map nicely to Microsoft's overall business. That is, growth is slower than that of hypetastic products like the iPad, but the volume of sales is still an order of magnitude larger. So, PC sales are still a big money maker and will be for years to come. They're just not as exciting to consumers or Wall Street as the colorful, expensive tech baubles that Apple sells.
Despite this, Microsoft's core products are still doing fantastically well. The company recently revealed that it sold 400 million Windows 7 licenses in that product's first 20 months—a steady pace of 20 million units per month. And in one year, it sold more than 100 million licenses for Office 2010, the latest version of its office productivity suite for PCs. So much for the death of traditional software.
New Microsoft businesses, however, are a mixed bag. The company's Windows Phone OS was released less than a year ago and is almost nonexistent from a usage-share perspective. And online initiatives such as Bing haven't made much headway—at least, not yet. On the other hand, Microsoft's transition to cloud computing is promising, and services such as Office 365, Windows Intune, and Windows Azure could eventually augment and then replace its traditional products.
Microsoft reports its quarterly and annual financial results late Thursday.