Microsoft profits ... wait till next year
Flat numbers? Ha! It's Vista and the new Office that Microsoft investors are betting on.
By Grace Wong, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- Microsoft is expected to report lackluster results Thursday ... but Wall Street isn't likely to mind.

It's 2007 investors and analysts are thinking about. That's when Vista, the first major update of the Windows operating system since 2001, finally rolls out.

Microsoft shares have rallied since hitting a 52-week low in June.

In addition, the world's largest software maker will roll out the latest version of its Office software suite next year.

With those product moves, 2007 will be the year that Microsoft gets some revenue and earnings reinvigoration. As for the latest quarter? You can see Wall Street shrug.

"To be honest, we don't really care about [the earnings reported] this quarter," said Romeo Dator, co-manager of the All-American Equity Fund from U.S. Global Investors, which owns shares of Microsoft. "We're holding on to Microsoft because of the product introductions that will be released in 2007," he said.

For the record, when Microsoft reports results for its fiscal first quarter ended in September, it is expected to post earnings of 31 cents a share on revenue of $10.8 billion, according to analysts surveyed by earnings tracker Thomson First Call. In the year-ago period, the company reported earnings of 31 cents a share on revenue of $9.7 billion.

As for the high hopes for next year, it hasn't been easy.

After struggling with numerous launch delays, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft (Charts) looks ready to ship Vista to business customers to next month and to consumers in January.

Also contributing to the upbeat outlook for Microsoft is its Xbox gaming device, which looks poised to take some market share from Sony's (Charts) Play Station this holiday season, analysts said.

Microsoft still loses money on each Xbox console, but those losses are starting to diminish, Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund wrote in a recent research note. Sherlund, who has a "buy" rating on Microsoft, expects the company's Xbox operation to turn profitable by the September quarter of 2007.

Another segment investors will be watching is Microsoft's online division. A latecomer to the Internet services market, Microsoft faces stiff competition from established players like Google (Charts) and Yahoo! (Charts), which have begun offering Web-based applications that compete with traditional desktop software.

Microsoft has also invested heavily in its entertainment division, and as part of that effort, the company is set to debut its so-called iPod killer, named Zune, next month.

Dator said he doesn't expect the portable music player to have much of an impact on Apple's (Charts) iPod any time soon, but Microsoft could grab market share further down the road.

Investors appear upbeat about the company's product line. Microsoft's stock has rallied the last three months as the launch of Vista has neared, and over the last year, shares have gained about 9 percent.

But investors are still frustrated the company isn't doing more with the massive amounts of cash it generates.

"They need to be more sensitive about their use their capital. They need to use it more efficiently to create more shareholder value," said Fred Burke, a fund manager at Johnson Lemon Asset Management, which owns shares of Microsoft.

Sherlund doesn't own shares of Microsoft, but Goldman Sachs does investment banking for the company.

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