Carnevale: Microsoft Too Cheap to Ignore

Tickers in this article: MSFT
By Chuck Carnevale

NEW YORK ( F.A.S.T. Graphs ) -- With the major stock market indices approaching record levels, finding good value is becoming more difficult every day. However, there are major sectors that the markets are currently leaving behind. One glaring example is the blue-chip, dividend paying technology sector.

It was not very long ago when adjectives such as, blue-chip or dividend paying, simply did not apply to high-profile technology companies. But that is changing, and I believe the way we look at high-profile technology stocks must change with it. Enter Microsoft (MSFT) .

This stalwart is a classic example of a once high-flying and hyper-growing technology company that now appears to be morphing into a blue-chip, high-yielding dividend growth stock. Therefore, I believe investors should consider adjusting their views about Microsoft the business, and Microsoft the stock. Let's evaluate the stock and the business, through the lens of F.A.S.T. Graphs , a fundamentals analyzer.

Since 1999, Microsoft has been a losing investment based on capital appreciation. Only the initiation of its first dividend in 2003, and its rapid growth, plus a special dividend of $3 per share in calendar year 2005, have enabled shareholders to just barely break even. Regardless, Microsoft the stock can only be described as a lousy investment since 1999. Consequently, attitudes about Microsoft the business are mostly and understandably poor and/or negative.

Microsoft's poor stock-price performance has masked its exceptional business performance over the same time period. Moreover, I believe Microsoft's operating record demonstrates that CEO Steve Ballmer has been unfairly criticized as a result of Microsoft's poor stock performance. It's important to recognize that the CEO of a publicly traded company should be held responsible for the operating results of the business. However, it should also be understood that they do not control Mr. Market. Consequently, they cannot control the price action of their stock in an auction market.

Microsoft's Ugly Performance Record

Look at Microsoft's price and dividend performance since the end of calendar year 1998. From the performance table below, we discover that a $1,000 investment in Microsoft on Dec. 31, 1998 would have fallen to $817.61 by March 5, 2013, generating a compound loss of 1.4% per annum.

Thanks to the cumulative dividend totaling $224.09, shareholders were able to break even. The combined total capital loss plus dividends amount to a total ending value of $1,041.70 on the original $1,000 investment. This computes to a .03% total annualized rate of return vs. a 2.8% annualized total rate of return from an equal investment in the S&P 500 . Clearly Microsoft's stock has been dead money for the better part of a decade and a half.

Microsoft's Beautiful Business Record

Next let's move on to examining Microsoft's business by looking at its earnings per share growth since 1999. The orange line on the following graph plots Microsoft's earnings per share and represents a fair value PE ratio of 15. The green shaded area represents total earnings. Looking to the green shaded rectangle in the Fast Facts to the right of the graph, we discover that Microsoft's earnings growth averaged 12.5% per annum, which incidentally is almost exactly two times the growth rate of the S&P 500.