Kara Swisher

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Microsoft Reports Strong Rebound: Happy–Well, Less Gloomy–Days Are Here Again! (Plus the Numbers)

With much easier comparisons due to a devastating period last year and an upswing in PC sales, Microsoft posted solid third-quarter earnings today after the markets closed.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant said it had revenue of $14.5 billion in the quarter ended March 31, a six percent rise from a year ago.

Net income was $4.01 billion, or 45 cents a share.

That’s despite forking over $78 million to Yahoo in the quarter as part of Microsoft’s online search and advertising partnership with the company.

The numbers handily beat Wall Street expectations of $14.4 billion and 42 cents a share.

Microsoft (MSFT) said the results included “the deferral of $305 million of revenue relating to the Microsoft Office 2010 Technology Guarantee program. Adjusting for the revenue deferral, third-quarter revenue totaled $14.81 billion, an increase of eight percent over the prior year period.”

“Windows 7 continues to be a growth engine, but we also saw strong growth in other areas like Bing search, Xbox LIVE and our emerging cloud services,” said CFO Peter Klein in a statement. “Our record third-quarter revenue along with continued rigor on cost management resulted in exceptional EPS growth.”

Was it just a year ago, battered by the econalypse, that Microsoft reported its very first drop in revenue, as well as a disastrous net income?

At the time, then-CFO Chris Liddell noted that the recovery would not happen quickly, but be “slow and gradual.”

That was largely due to weak PC sales, of course. And it led to layoffs and a general mood of gloom over the company.

Last year in the same quarter, Microsoft whiffed big time, reporting revenue of $13.7 billion, down from $14.5 in the third quarter of 2008. Net income was worse, down to $2.98 billion from $4.4 billion the year earlier.

But PC sales are up, which is always good for Microsoft. Its stock has been up because of it–almost four percent just this week.

This year, the company also has sales of the new Windows 7 operating system to goose results.

And the next quarter will also probably look good as Microsoft releases its cash-generating Office 2010 version to businesses and consumers.

The Entertainment and Devices division, which includes Xbox, was up, earning $165 million, from a $41 million loss a year ago.

But the long-suffering Online Services Division–home of the company’s Bing search service–was, more than ever, money-losing. It lost $713 million in the quarter, compared with a loss of $411 million last year.

The red ink was even more so, since Microsoft forked over $78 million to Yahoo (YHOO) in the period, which certainly brightened Yahoo’s bottom line in its report earlier this week.

Here’s the Microsoft press release with tables: