Microsoft Soars on Stellar Quarter

Microsoft is beginning to look like the growth stock it was in the 1990s.

After years of dependable double-digit growth and a stock that went nowhere, Microsoft had come to resemble a mature company. But for the second time this year, the software giant posted the kind of growth that it routinely did in the 1990s.

Microsoft’s first fiscal quarter sales rose 27% to $13.76 billion, the company reported late Thursday. That was about $1.2 billion more than analysts expected, and earnings of 45 cents a share were 6 cents more than Wall Street was looking for.

The company also raised current quarter guidance, saying it expects earnings of 44 to 46 cents a share and sales of $15.6 billion to $16.1 billion.

Following 32% sales growth in its March quarter, Microsoft is putting together the kind of performance its shareholders haven’t seen in years. In after hours trading, the stock soared 10% to more than $35 a share, its highest level since July 2000.

Microsoft cited strong sales of Windows Vista, the 2007 Microsoft Office system, Windows Server, SQL Server and Halo 3 for its strong growth.

Microsoft’s results could also be good news for a market worried about a slowdown in the wake of a brutal credit market crisis sparked by a subprime mortgage market meltdown. Those concerns were front and center once again on Thursday, when stocks fell sharply on rumors that Dow component AIG could announce a large write down. Stocks largely recovered after the rumors were denied, but it was another tough day for tech stocks despite some solid earnings reports.

EMC and VMware rocketed on better than expected results, while Motorola gained 4% on signs that its struggling handset business is starting to turn around.

Monster Worldwide, Akamai and Advent Software were other earnings winners.

Symantec fell 12% after saying that a slowing U.S. economy could hurt consumer sales, and Comcast, LSI and Cadence Design also lost ground on their results.

Nvidia and Applied Materials fell on analyst downgrades, making for another tough day for the chip sector, while Palm also slid on a downgrade.

The Nasdaq fell 23 to 2750, the S&P lost 1 to 1514, and the Dow slipped 3 to 13,671. Volume rose to 4.14 billion shares on the NYSE, and 2.8 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led by a 17-16 margin on the NYSE, and 17-12 on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 51% on the NYSE, and 73% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 139-138 on the NYSE, and 131-175 on the Nasdaq.

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