For many investors, the end of 2022 couldn’t come soon enough. Each of the major market indices suffered the most painful sell-off in more than a decade, but the Nasdaq composite was by far the hardest hit. Even 14 months after its peak, the index is still about 33% lower than its late-2021 high.
The lingering uncertainty has led many investors to look for coverage, but those who have been around a few times know that this is only part of the cost of admission. The stock market remains the best way to generate trailblazing wealth over time – at least for investors who know about it. Every previous bear market has eventually given way to a bull market, and these occasional market downturns offer investors the opportunity to buy top-notch companies with a proven track record at historically low prices.
It is an attractive bear market opportunity Microsoft (MSFT -0.28%). Like many tech companies, macroeconomic uncertainty has penalized the stock. However, those who step back and look at the big picture will realize that this is a stock that investors should buy as if there was no tomorrow.
An undeserved bang
The past 12 months have not been pleasant for Microsoft shareholders. Even as the tech giant posted record results, its stock fell 25%, pushed lower by the macroeconomic forces driving the broader market.
Still, a look at the results shows a company that continues to perform at a high level. For fiscal 2022 (which ended June 30), Microsoft generated record results, culminating in revenue of $198.3 billion, up 18% year-over-year, and operating income of $83 billion, up 19%. The results were helped in part by Microsoft’s cloud computing business, which surpassed $100 billion in annualized revenue for the first time.
To be clear, Microsoft faced numerous headwinds that weighed on its growth. Exchange rates cut sales by about $595 million, while production outages in China and the deteriorating PC market cost another $300 million. Declining ad spending also took its toll, to the tune of $100 million.
But even as the market downturn worsened, Microsoft continued to generate respectable growth. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2023 (ending September 30), revenue was up 11% year over year, but that only tells part of the story. Without the impact of a strong dollar on exchange rates, sales would have increased by 16% – slightly less than last year. This shows that it is the current economic slowdown – not a problem with Microsoft at all – that is weighing on its growth.
The impact of these macroeconomic conditions was also reflected in the mixed performance of Microsoft’s largest business units. While the intelligent cloud segment grew 20% year over year, the more personal computing segment declined slightly, while the productivity and business processes segment rose 9%.
This helps illustrate an important point about Microsoft: Microsoft’s strength lies in the diversity of its businesses, which range from business solutions to consumer products and everything in between. Even if one feels pressure, another can pick up the slack.
Overall, the evidence suggests that once macroeconomic headwinds ease, Microsoft stock prices should recover quickly and strongly.
What will drive future growth?
Given its sheer size, investors might be tempted to believe Microsoft’s growth is over, but that ignores some key growth drivers.
A lot of ink has been spilled about the digital transformation. In the simplest terms, it is the process of replacing obsolete processes and creating new more efficient processes using digital technology. Cloud computing, the process of storing and accessing systems, data and programs in data centers and accessing these systems over the Internet, is one example, which offers numerous benefits to businesses.
The continued adoption of cloud computing will undoubtedly benefit Microsoft Azure, the world’s second largest provider of cloud infrastructure services Amazon Web Services (AWS). Azure is also growing faster than its larger rival, as cloud computing revenue grew 35% year over year in the third quarter, outpacing AWS’s 27% growth, according to Canalys.
That’s not Microsoft’s only opportunity for growth, and recent moves illustrate that it has other irons in the fire. The company’s pursuit Activision Blizzard would not only give Microsoft a bigger bridgehead in the gaming market, but would also boost its cloud gaming aspirations.
Microsoft also stunned the tech world when reports emerged of a $10 billion investment in OpenAI, best known for DALL-E 2 and ChatGPT. This could take Microsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities to the next level, with plenty of ways to take advantage of next-generation technology.
Let’s talk about the price
Given Microsoft’s leadership in the business productivity market, strong position in the consumer-facing business and the top 2 cloud computing business, the valuation is at its lowest point in years. Shares of Microsoft are trading for just 8 times next year’s revenue — an extremely reasonable valuation — especially given its history of strong growth and sustained outlook.
The preponderance of evidence suggests that it is the macroeconomic headwinds that are dragging Microsoft stock down. The current climate will eventually give way to better times, and when it does, investors will wish they bought more Microsoft stock while it was on sale.
John Mackey, former CEO of Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods Market, serves on the board of directors of The Motley Fool. Danny Vena holds positions at Activision Blizzard, Amazon.com and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Activision Blizzard, Amazon.com, and Microsoft. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.