Microsoft maintained its No. 3 position as the world's most valuable company Wednesday, after surpassing Google's parent company Alphabet in market value just the day before.
At the end of trading, Microsoft's market value was $760 billion, holding off Alphabet, whose market value was $746 billion. Only Apple and Amazon.com are worth more, at $922 billion and $788 billion, respectively. The ballooning valuations have fueled speculation as to which U.S. tech company will be the first to reach a $1 trillion-market cap. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Microsoft's stock price, which closed at $98.95, is more than double what it was when Satya Nadella became chief executive in 2014. Analysts attribute the Nadella-era success to strategic decisions he made to compete with Amazon in the cloud storage business, an emphasis on maintaining diverse sources of revenue, and opening up what was long seen as an insular Windows ecosystem to other platforms and partnerships.
“Microsoft Azure has become a strong number-two player in the cloud wars to AWS,” Rishi Jaluria, an analyst at D.A. Davidson, a financial services firm, said, referring to Amazon's cloud business. For some sectors, like retail, Azure's cloud service presents an appealing alternative to doing business with Amazon, whose e-commerce business directly competes against retailers, he said.
“The culture of the company has changed,” said Jay Vleeschhouwer, the managing director of software research at Griffin Securities. Vleeschhouwer noted Nadella's willingness to partner with other companies such as Adobe, and moves to reorganize Microsoft to build more internal collaboration. Nadella's approach, described as pragmatic, can also be seen in the decision to sell the money-losing Nokia, he said.
Compared with tech giants such as Amazon and Apple, Microsoft is less reliant on one particular business to generate income. In the company's most recent earnings report, Microsoft disclosed that its $24.5 billion in revenue is split across three categories: about 33 percent comes from productivity services including Office and LinkedIn; 28 percent is server products and cloud services; and 38 percent is personal computing and gaming. In contrast, about 86 percent of Alphabet's revenue comes from Google ads. And about 70 percent of Apple's business is selling iPhones.
“The diversity that Microsoft has is really helpful to continue that march to the trillion-dollar market cap,” Jaluria said. “Whether it will happen before Apple or Amazon is a different story.”
While the stock prices of tech titans often track one another through dips and climbs, Microsoft's shares began to pull away in March. Morgan Stanley software analyst Keith Weiss told investors at the time that he expects Microsoft to reach $1 trillion in market cap within the next year, owing to the growth of its cloud storage unit and the company's existing Office customer base that will probably upgrade to its cloud subscription service.
Alphabet and Microsoft have traded places before; the first time occurred in 2012, when Google surpassed the Redmond, Wash., company, signaling the transition from desktop-based software to Web platforms and mobile computing.