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Jul 20, 2017

'One-quarter wonder': Microsoft Q4 profit more than doubles on cloud business growth

Microsoft posts strong Q4 earnings as it looks to future in cloud and AI

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue on Thursday, helped by strong performance in its fast-growing cloud business.

Shares of the world's largest software company rose more than three per cent in after-hours trading, after touching a record high of US$74.30 during the regular session.

Microsoft said revenue from its cloud unit, which includes the flagship Azure platform and server products, rose about 11 per cent to US$7.43 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30.

Analysts on average had expected revenue of US$7.32 billion, according to data and analytics firm FactSet.

Revenue from Azure nearly doubled in the quarter.

The service competes with Amazon.com Inc's Amazon Web Services as well as offerings from Alphabet Inc's Google, IBM and Oracle Corp.

Highlighting Azure's growth were notable increases to Microsoft's long-term unearned revenue, which rose by more than 61 per cent year-to-year. The metric is used to indicate long-term commitments for services and products, said Kim Forrest, vice president and senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, a portfolio management firm.

"This isn't just a one-quarter wonder," Forrest said. "Amazon is going to be paying attention to this."

The Redmond, Washington, company has sharpened its focus on the burgeoning cloud computing unit as part of Chief Executive Satya Nadella's "mobile first, cloud first" strategy to offset weakness in the PC market.

"Across all three segments, cloud is leading the future," said Stephanie Rodriguez, Microsoft's director of investor relations.

Michael Turits, analyst at Raymond James & Associates, said Azure is smaller than Amazon's service but that it is growing faster. "I think it is appealing well to existing enterprise customers who might not immediately be drawn to the Amazon platform," he said.

The company said it recorded US$306 million in restructuring charges following a reorganization of its sales and marketing teams that was announced earlier this month. The restructuring resulted in layoffs for thousands of Microsoft employees.

"These are primarily 'rebalancing' versus a permanent headcount reduction," said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst of Moor Insights & Strategy. Moorhead said the reorganization is intended to accelerate Microsoft's cloud revenue.

Microsoft's net income more than doubled to US$6.51 billion or 83 cents US per share in the quarter, from US$3.12 billion or 39 cents US per share in the year-earlier period.

Excluding one-time items, Microsoft earned 98 cents US per share.

On an adjusted basis, revenue rose 9.1 per cent to US$24.7 billion.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 71 cents US per share and revenue of US$24.27 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Microsoft said it expects revenue for its three business segments to land between US$23.6 billion and US$24.3 billion in the first quarter, which would be up more than five per cent year-to-year.