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Microsoft’s quarter looks up, amid doubts over leadership

Now that Alan Mulally won't lead Microsoft, sources say it will consider key insiders. But analysts think a "dark horse" outsider is possible.


The company behind the world's most popular operating system faces investors this week, under pressure to explain its cloud computing, mobile and software strategies – or, at least, say who the next CEO is going to be.

Microsoft Corp. releases its fiscal 2014 second-quarter results on Thursday. On average, analysts expect Microsoft to post earnings of between 68 and 69 cents (U.S.) per share, a revenue of roughly $23.6-billion. That would compare to EPS of 76 and revenue of $21.5-billion in the same quarter a year earlier.

Microsoft headlines a week chock-full of technology industry earnings. Among the companies expected to release quarterly numbers this week are eBay Inc., Netflix Inc., Juniper Networks Inc., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc.

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In all, the earnings should give investors a good look at the state of the industry as a whole. And in the case of companies such as Microsoft, whose enterprise-facing divisions often serve as a means to judge wider business spending, the economy as a whole.

Judged by its share price, Microsoft has had a decent year. Ending last week at roughly $36 a share on the NASDAQ, the company's share price is roughly $10 higher than a year ago. During that year, Microsoft launched a number of major products – including iterations of the Windows operating system and Xbox gaming console.

Investors will have no shortage of business areas to be curious about. The company will be under pressure to further expand on its mobile strategy. In recent months, Microsoft has seen growth in its smartphone offerings, surpassing BlackBerry as the No. 3 platform in some key geographic regions, and the company's Surface tablet has also been upgraded. But in both the smartphone and tablet markets, Microsoft-powered products still lag well behind those developed to run on software from Apple and Google.

A new topic of interest has surfaced more recently – the risks to the company's lucrative cloud business. Microsoft has positioned itself alongside Amazon and Google as one of the biggest players in cloud computing. But a flood of revelations from whistle blower Edward Snowden related to the security of such services has made some customers much more reluctant to put sensitive data in the cloud. Investors will be looking for any signs of how that new reluctance has affected Microsoft's cloud business, and what the company is doing about it.

Investors and analysts will also want more information on the state of the company's executive ranks. It has been more than four months since CEO Steve Ballmer announced he will retire from the top job, and Microsoft still has nobody to take his place.

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