Perhaps no tech company is as recognizable internationally -- for better or worse -- than Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). The veteran firm's operating systems run billions of computers worldwide, and it makes the world's second best-selling video game console to boot.
But where Microsoft has dominated in sales, it's struggled in expansion and image. Between 1991 and 2001 Microsoft grew 12 fold in revenue. Between 2001 and 2011 it grew only 2.5 times.
Microsoft is facing much the problem of the British Empire at its peak in the Victorian era -- whither to expand? Microsoft has found success in the console/video game market, but it's other efforts -- tablets, smartphones, internet advertising, MP3 players, etc. -- have been money sinks and have failed to generate significant market share.
This struggle has led investors to forsake Microsoft. The company is expected to report record yearly revenue of $70B USD and record profit of $22B USD in profit, for its fiscal year 2011 (calendar Q3 2010 - Q2 2011). Stock prices have only risen 6 percent, approximately during that year, even as profits are expected to rise 22 percent. Perhaps investors are waiting for the actual numbers to land, but there seems to be a definite antipathetic sentiment when it comes to Microsoft's stock.
That has allowed rival Apple, Inc. (AAPL) to depose it as the biggest market cap stock in the tech industry. To put that in perspective, Apple sells fewer products than Microsoft in units. Windows 7 license sales recently hit 400 million for the year, meaning Microsoft likely sold around 200 million licenses in the last year. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to sell around 20-25 million Xbox 360s. Microsoft won't reveal exact Microsoft Office 2010 sales figures, but it's estimated to be in the tens of millions as well.
This stands in contrast to Apple who is on track to move somewhere around 70 to 80 million iPhones, 15 million Macs, and 35 million iPads for its fiscal year, which ends in September. In other words, Apple moves about 125 million products a year give or take a few million, while Microsoft moves roughly two to three times that. Yet Apple is looking to outpace Microsoft in profits by as much as 50 percent.
Microsoft's underlying issue is that its profit margins are good, but not great. So even though most people in the world have access to one of its products, it's still not financially the market juggernaut some would wish it to be.
And then there's the issue of the perception that Microsoft is falling behind the curve, in terms of technology. This perception largely owes to Microsoft widely publicized internet and mobile device struggles.
Bruce Ventimiglia, Chief Executive Officer at fund manager Saratoga Capital Management comments in Reuters piece, "We have concerns about Microsoft. As we look at Google and others attacking their business lines, our view over the long run is that it's going to erode margins. Microsoft is not moving as forcefully in the tech space as we'd like to see."
Such sentiments were echoed by prominent David Einhorn, who demanded chief executive Steve Ballmer's head for the lackluster stock performance. The bid failed -- Microsoft's board backed Mr. Ballmer and rebuffed the calls for his resignation. But the challenge put the topic of leadership change into serious discussion.
Microsoft arguably is the world's most used tech firm (though Google Inc. (GOOG) and Facebook could also perhaps lay claim to that title). But investors are by and large writing it off. As the brutish, brooding divisive chief, Mr. Ballmer, might echo in the words of late Rodney Dangerfield, "[We] don't get no respect!"