Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

New York —  Microsoft  analysts expect strong third-quarter results from the company on Wednesday as its cloud-computing division continues to see rapid growth.

The report could extend a rally that has lifted Microsoft shares more than 33% off a December low. Microsoft closed at a record on Tuesday and the company’s market capitalisation is within 4% of $1-trillion.

Shares were down 0.3% ahead of the results on Wednesday.

Analysts are expecting broad strength in the quarter, but sales of the company’s Azure cloud-computing product are likely the most highly anticipated number in the report.

Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives forecasts “a solid beat across the board on both the top and bottom line”, with cloud strength acting as “the fuel in the tank”.

According to estimates compiled by Bloomberg, Azure is expected to grow more than 68% on a year-over-year basis. While this represents a slowdown from the 93% growth reported a year ago, the bigger scale underlines Microsoft’s central position in a key sub-sector of the IT ecosystem, one dominated by Amazon Web Services only a few years ago.

The company’s “intelligent cloud” division accounted for 29.2% of Microsoft’s 2018 revenue, according to Bloomberg data, up from 25.3% in 2015. KeyBanc Capital Markets’ Brent Bracelin wrote that the cloud business has “structurally improved Microsoft’s growth trajectory”, creating the prospect of sustained double-digit annual growth.

Goldman Sachs wrote that Azure’s positive momentum is “enabling the company to significantly outpace the overall market’s growth”.

Earnings are seen rising 4.9% in the quarter, while revenue gains 11.3%. This represents the slowest quarterly pace of year-over-year revenue growth since 2017, as per Bloomberg data, but Mizuho Securities called it strong “for a company its size”.