July 22, 2020 / 8:44 AM / 15 days ago

Can remote work growth offset stalls in Microsoft's one-time deals?

(Reuters) - Investors have pushed shares of Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) up almost 30 percent since the start of the year, betting that the pandemic-induced shift to more remote computing will boost its business.

FILE PHOTO: The Microsoft store is pictured in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., June 26, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Those investors will find out if they were right on Wednesday, when the company reports its results for the fiscal fourth quarter.

Wall Street, however, is braced for Microsoft to report that Azure, its flagship cloud computing business, has slipped below 50% revenue growth for the first time ever.

Analysts also expect some declines, such as for Microsoft’s on-premises server purchases and sales of consumer devices. They also expect Microsoft to take an earnings-per-share hit of about 5 cents because of a decision last month to shutter its retail operations permanently.

But they expect continued surges in demand for products like Azure, which powers online apps, and Xbox gaming services as millions stay home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Azure’s slowing growth, analysts said, was long expected as the business balloons to tens of billions of dollars per year.

Investors will also be looking to see if the company is attracting new customers with its Teams collaboration software, which had 75 million users as of April 29. Last quarter, Microsoft reported strong demand for the product, which it said it gave away to some hard-hit customers.

Microsoft did not say when it planned to start charging.

Shares of the Redmond, Washington-based company were flirting with an all-time high at $208.75 on Tuesday. They have soared by 32.37%, compared with the S&P 500’s gain of 0.8% since the start of the year.

Analysts are expecting the Intelligent Cloud business, which includes Azure, to rise by nearly 15% to $13.1 billion (10.29 billion pounds) in the fourth quarter, according to IBES data from Refinitiv as of July 21.

“The bottom line is we are still in the early innings of a market that is expected to grow to $405 billion” by calendar year 2023, Evercore ISA analysts Kirk Materne, Peter Levine and Peter Burkly wrote in a note to investors.

Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Dan Grebler

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