It was an ordinary quarter for Microsoft Corp., which means it was extraordinary. Maybe even a little more extraordinary than usual.
Operating profit for the software giant's first fiscal quarter, announced after the financial markets closed today, rose more than 35 percent to 38 cents a share. During the same quarter last year, it was 28 cents a share.
Analysts had expected an average of 34 cents a share, according to First Call Corp. Microsoft, which often emphasizes the obstacles to future profitability, has exceeded analysts' estimates for at least five years.
Revenue in the quarter jumped to $5.38 billion, up 28 percent from $4.19 billion last year. Net income was $2.19 billion, which included $156 million from the sale of the online city guide Sidewalk, compared with $1.68 billion last year, which included $160 million from the sale of the Softimage subsidiary.
"As my 2-year-old likes to say, 'Whoa!' What a quarter!" Chief Financial Officer Greg Maffei told analysts in a conference call. The market agreed: Microsoft stock, which closed down $1.56 1/4 today at $86.31 1/4, bounced up above $90 in after-hours trading.
Maffei said he especially liked "the shape of the quarter, as volume picked up in September and we did particularly well in markets that had recently lagged," specifically Japan. He noted that the personal computer market, where Microsoft's Windows operating system dominates, "remains very healthy," and that a Y2K slowdown--something that Microsoft has continually warned about--has not happened.
In fact, he said that in the current quarter, Microsoft expected to pick up more business than usual from companies that had finished their Y2K adjustments and were preparing for the future.
Given such a quarter, "You have to feel good and optimistic," Maffei said. But Microsoft wouldn't be Microsoft if its executives left it at that, so he added: "I would offer some words of caution."
Maffei warned the analysts, who were naturally thinking of raising their estimates for the current quarter from the consensus 39 cents, against boosting them by more than 3 cents. And as for the fiscal year's second half, which will begin Jan. 1, he cautioned against raising estimates at all. "We're encouraging conservatism," he said, noting that most of the revenue from Microsoft's next operating system upgrade, Windows 2000, wouldn't kick in until fiscal 2001.
The first-quarter results were especially outstanding considering it is usually the company's weakest. "I said five or six years ago, there's no way they can maintain these growth rates," Michael Cusumano, an MIT professor who has written on Microsoft, said in a recent interview. "I was wrong. Microsoft has continued to grow faster than anyone has expected. Do you know how unusual it is to grow more than 20 percent a year when you're 25 years old?"
However, there's one place unimpressed by Microsoft's success. According to a report in today's Toronto Globe and Mail, the cash-strapped University of Victoria has decided not to offer Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates an honorary degree. A proposal before the school's senate failed to gather the necessary two-thirds vote.
The dissenters cited such Microsoft actions as offering professors $200 if they mentioned or used the company's programming tools in scholarly presentations, the newspaper said. Gates, the wealthiest man in the world, has made significant donations to such schools as MIT, Duke and the University of Washington. "Bill was honored to even be considered," a Microsoft spokeswoman said.