On a big earnings day, tech giants are banking on the cloud

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Four of the tech industry’s giants will report earnings results today, hoping cloud computing will boost their fortunes.

Early earnings reports for the first calendar quarter provided some signs that the cloud is helping some tech stalwarts. IBM Corp. saw its shares fall last week on yet another quarterly revenue decline, but cloud growth was strong. And on Tuesday, SAP’s shares waffled as it fell short on profits but it turned in strong cloud subscription revenue.

There’s not a lot of room for error from investors’ point of view. Even though share prices modestly declined the first half of April, technology shares are still up an average of 10 percent in 2017, compared with 4 percent for the overall market. Among the four major companies reporting Thursday, Amazon.com Inc. hit a peak of 20 percent above its year-end close. Google Inc. parent Alphabet Inc. climbed 8 percent and Microsoft Corp. was up 5 percent. Only Intel Corp. has declined.

Experts say the recent run-up has been fueled by investors who are seeking growth now that hopes have dimmed for near-term big tax cuts or infrastructure spending by the new administration. That prospect had driven price-to-earnings multiples for some companies into the stratosphere. Amazon’s P/E ratio, for instance, is 180.

One thing likely will emerge from the first-quarter performance: Leaders in mobility and the cloud are in favor. “The ongoing movement toward cloud services is not only being fueled by the mainstream acceptance of these on-demand alternatives, but also by the continued economic uncertainties facing companies in an increasingly volatile global environment,” said Jeff Kaplan, managing director at THINKstrategies Inc., a cloud consulting firm.

Here’s the outlook for companies reporting later Thursday afternoon:

Ralph Finos, an analyst with Wikibon, owned by the same company as SiliconANGLE, expects Amazon to report $3.74 billion in quarterly revenue from its Amazon Web Services cloud computing unit, up 46 percent from the same quarter last year. Analysts are estimating overall quarterly earnings per share will be about $1.13. In recent quarters, virtually all of Amazon’s operating profits have come from AWS.

Finos thinks No. 2 cloud player Microsoft will grow its Intelligent Cloud business about 9 percent to $6.45 billion and the Azure infrastructure-as a service business between 90 and 100 percent. In handily beating sales and earnings estimates in the most recent quarter, Microsoft reported 95 percent growth in its Azure business, with Office 365 successfully baiting the hook for many enterprises to move cloudward. Analysts are looking for a 69-cent EPS in the quarter.

Cloud computing remains a tiny portion of revenue for Alphabet despite Google’s accelerating focus on new cloud services and infrastructure spending since at least 2015. Investors will certainly have questions about its cloud operation, mostly how much Google is spending to build it up. But shares no doubt will turn more on how its massive advertising business performs. Analyst are looking for profits of $7.40 a share on a 20 percent jump in revenue, to $24.2 billion.

Intel is in transition as it sheds no-growth business such as security and places big bets on nascent markets such as autonomous vehicles. Investor expectations are modest as a result. Analysts expect Intel to report quarterly revenue of $14.81 billion, up about 7 percent. Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said he’ll be looking for statements about how Intel is coping with new competition from rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. He’ll also be listening for news of whether a modest revival in PC sales is trickling down to the bottom line and when investors should expect to see results of recently announced artificial intelligence and cloud initiatives.

Image: Robert Hof