Apple and Microsoft: The Value Is in Plain Sight

Apple and Microsoft: The Value Is in Plain Sight

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

The S&P 500 and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.3% and 0.6% today, respectively, on a string of positive earnings announcements from blue chip companies.

Yesterday, in a piece titled, "Value investors see tech stocks coming of age," the Financial Times' esteemed investment columnist John Authers wrote:

[In the case of big technolog companies], the value may be hidden in plain sight... There is good reason to expect more interest from value investors in large technology stocks.

I think he's absolutely right, and there are two prominent examples of this in today's stock market headlines:

Microsoft reported its results for the quarter ended Sept. 30 after the closing bell. The Redmond, WA software concern may be "old tech," but it's not extinct. Today's numbers prove the company still has the ability to surprise to the upside -- adjusted revenue grew 7% year on year, to $18.6 billion, 5% ahead of the $17.8 billion Wall Street was forecasting. Similarly, adjusted earnings of $0.63 per share were 17% higher than the consensus forecast. In response, Microsoft's stock was up 5.7% in after-hours trading.

Microsoft may be trying to reposition itself as a "devices and services" company with its finger on the pulse of consumer technologies, but its strength lies in its stable of business services: Commercial revenue grew 10% to Devices and Consumer's 4% growth. Within Commercial, Microsoft is having success in the transition to web-enabled services: Commercial cloud revenue leapt 103% year on year. I believe the highly visible battle against Apple, Samsung, and Google in mobile devices is obscuring the jewels that are Microsoft's Commercial division.

Speaking of mobile devices, shares of Microsoft rival Apple got a 1.3% lift today on news that billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn is stepping up his campaign for a $150 billion share buyback with an open letter [sign-up required] published on his new website, the Shareholders' Square Table.

Icahn declares that he is entirely satisfied with Apple CEO Tim Cook's "management leadership and operational strategy;" his only qualm is with the "size and timeframe of Apple's buyback program" [Apple's current program calls for $60 billion in share repurchases over a three-year period.]

Not everyone agrees Apple needs to alter its current buyback program, however. Just last week, another billionaire investor, Warren Buffett, responded to that very issue on CNBC by defending Apple:

I think the Apple management and directors have done a pretty darned good job of running the company, and so my vote would be with them... I do not think that companies should be run primarily to please Wall Street, and largely shareholders who are going to sell.

While Icahn has pledged that he would withhold his Apple shares from the $150 billion tender offer, concluding his letter with, "There is nothing short term about my intentions here," one cannot really consider him a long-term shareholder. However, there is no doubting his pedigree as a value hound, and value is what he smells within Apple's stock, describing it in his letter as "our most compelling investment."

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Fool contributor Alex Dumortier, CFA has no position in any stocks mentioned; you can follow him on Twitter @longrunreturns. The Motley Fool recommends Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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