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As Microsoft readies Q2 earnings report, non-financial questions swirl

Juan Carlos Perez | Jan. 24, 2014
Microsoft will detail Thursday its second quarter financial performance, but it's not clear whether the company will take the opportunity to also clear up some of the uncertainty over key products and corporate changes.

After the reorganization, Microsoft also introduced a new format for breaking down its quarterly financial results that some critics feel makes it harder to pinpoint how key products like Windows and Office are doing in terms of sales. That new format made its debut in the first quarter earnings report.

Probably the biggest open question of them all is who will replace Ballmer, who said about five months ago that he would retire at some point before the end of August of this year. Early speculation after Ballmer's bombshell announcement was that Microsoft's board would appoint his replacement sooner rather than later, as pundits bet that the new CEO would be in place prior to the first quarter earnings report in October. When that didn't happen, rumors arose that Ballmer's successor would be named before 2013 closed. Wrong again.

As the search continues, there have been reports that some possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running, concerned that Ballmer and co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates would exert too much influence. All along the guessing game has continued in the media, becoming a sideshow Microsoft could do without, especially the initial flurry of speculation over whether Ballmer decided to retire or was pressured to leave.

Clearly it hasn't been easy finding qualified candidates with the required skillset and experience to lead Microsoft, which has a very broad and varied family of products, ranging from the Xbox gaming console to high-end server software for businesses, and which faces complicated business and corporate challenges, including the integration of Nokia's smartphone business once that massive acquisition closes. Microsoft is also navigating a tricky shift from being a provider of desktop and on-premises server software to becoming a provider of hardware devices and cloud computing services.

Recently, Alan Mulally, Ford's CEO, considered a front-runner candidate, stated that he would stay put leading the car company.

Forrester's Johnson said he expects Microsoft on Thursday to position lagging Windows 8.x sales as solid and on track with internal targets, and to report good results from the server and cloud computing product lines.

He also thinks Microsoft will drop "teasers designed to incite interest at what to expect with Windows 9" as well as an update on the CEO search process.

The consensus expectation from Wall Street analysts polled by Thomson Financial is for Microsoft to report revenue of $23.68 billion and earnings per share of $0.68. Last year, second quarter revenue was $21.46 billion and EPS was $0.76.

In a research note published Tuesday, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote that Microsoft's "top-line should be good, but at a cost to margins." They said a solid launch of the new Xbox One gaming console and "some momentum" around Surface 2 tablets could result in Microsoft topping Morgan Stanley's $23.7 billion revenue expectation.


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