When you find a great company with great management executing extremely well, it makes sense to keep buying shares of its stock over time.
Over the last five years, I’ve purchased the shares of one growth stock at least six times. And I’ve been rewarded handsomely, as shares recently closed at a new all-time high. Despite the strong price performance, I think the stock still presents a great buying opportunity today.
The stock I’m looking to add to my portfolio for the lucky number seventh time is Microsoft (MSFT 2.49%). Here’s why I can’t get enough of the stock.
Outmaneuvering the competition
Microsoft’s evolved significantly over the years, and its biggest business segment is now the intelligent cloud. Azure, Microsoft’s public cloud platform, is one of the biggest driving forces behind the segment, and it’s growing significantly faster than its competitors.
Microsoft reported revenue from Azure and other cloud services grew 29% last quarter. That’s far better than Amazon‘s 12% growth for Amazon Web Services and outpaces the smaller Google Cloud, which grew 22%, according to Alphabet‘s latest earnings release.
What’s more, Microsoft expects it’ll maintain that strong pace. It expects to generate 26% to 27% revenue growth (on a constant currency basis) for the rest of the fiscal year.
There are two factors driving Microsoft’s outperformance. The first is that it’s a dominant force in enterprise computing already. For businesses looking to running applications on the cloud, instead of using on-premise equipment, Azure is a natural choice. Management said its Azure Arc platform, which allows customers to run apps across on-premise or hybrid cloud environments, saw a 140% increase in customers year over year last quarter.
The second factor driving outperformance for Microsoft is artificial intelligence (AI). Azure is the preferred platform for some of the best large language models developers are using to create generative AI applications. That includes OpenAI’s models as well as Meta Platforms‘ Llama 2 and other open-source models.
And developers are using them. CFO Amy Hood said AI consumption was higher than expected last quarter, contributing 3 percentage points worth of growth for Azure.
While Microsoft has managed to create a very strong position in artificial intelligence, its existing position in enterprise computing may be a greater source of a competitive advantage in the cloud. Who knows for certain where generative AI development will go over the next decade, but it’s unlikely businesses will shift away from Windows anytime soon.
The rest of the business is a cash machine to support growth
Microsoft’s dominant position in the operating system and enterprise productivity software market is a cash cow.
Free cash flow over the trailing 12 months exceeded $63 billion. Windows and the Office 365 suite throw off more than enough cash for Microsoft to spend heavily on improving Azure. Capital expenditures and leases are driven by cloud and AI infrastructure and totaled $11.2 billion last quarter. Management expects that to keep climbing, but it still represents just over a third of its operating cash flow.
The balance sheet is also solid with $144 billion in cash and short-term investments and just $72 billion in debt. The company acquired Activision after the end of the quarter, so that’ll have a meaningful impact on its net cash position, but adds a valuable property to its business.
With plenty of cash to invest in growth in Azure and add-on acquisitions while paying out a dividend and buying back shares, Microsoft is in an enviable position. Its investments should ensure it’s able to capitalize on its strengths, build new competitive advantages (like in AI), and find new opportunities for expansion.
Paying a premium for a premium company
There’s no doubt Microsoft’s shares trade for a premium price.
It’s not just that shares are trading at their all-time high, the valuation for Microsoft is higher than its peers. The stock trades for 33x forward earnings. By comparison, Alphabet shares can be had for just 20x forward earnings and the S&P 500 trades for less than 20x forward earnings.
But that valuation is roughly in line with Microsoft’s median P/E over the last five years. And if you’d bought shares at any time in the last five years, like I have six times, you’d have seen great returns on your investment.
Microsoft can continue to grow quickly, led by its investments in Azure, supported by the cash generation of its enterprise software. Its ability to throw off cash for investors and invest in expanding the business to promising new areas should only get stronger as the cloud business continues to scale.
So, despite the high price tag and the strong growth in recent years, shares are still appealing.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. John Mackey, former CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to Meta Platforms CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Adam Levy has positions in Alphabet, Amazon, Meta Platforms, and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Alphabet, Amazon, Meta Platforms, and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.