Earnings Preview: Analysts Anticipate Microsoft To Miss Projections; Apple Still Inspires Hope

This story was written by David Kaplan.
As Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) and Apple prepare to unveil their Q4 earnings after the bell this afternoon, analysts are expecting different things from the two. The consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters (NSDQ: TRIN) has Microsoft analysts anticipating for profit of 49 cents per share on revenue of $17.08 billion, AP says. That's below what Microsoft itself had been calling for. The Redmond company previously told investors it expects to earn 51 to 53 cents per share, on sales of $17.3 billion to $17.8 billion.

Citigroup analyst Brent Thill doesn't expect Microsoft to announce layoffs, though he does expect the company's earnings to come up short of its earlier projections. Thill thinks that Microsoft tell investors that the company plans to cut back on hiring and contract employees. However, McAdams Wright Ragen analyst Sid Parakh does believe Microsoft will announce cuts of 6,000 to 8,000 employees, or 6 percent to 8 percent of its 95,000 workforce, Reuters reported. The bearish view of Microsoft is primarily based on poor sales of Windows as the PC market shrank amid the global recession.

Analysts still bullish on Apple: The questions and concerns surrounding Steve Jobs' announcement that he is taking a six-month leave of absence hasn't dented analysts' ardor for Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster told CNBC's Fast Money
that he expects a lot of good news about the past quarter's results. "Apple's performance in December not only saved the quarter but may have propelled earnings beyond Wall Street projections," he said.  He said that Apple shipped about 19- to 20 million iPods in Q4, ahead of investors' call for 18.6 million units. Barclays Capital analyst Ben Reitzes, who said "Apple will get bottom line support from margins." Analysts at RBC are taking a different view and expect that Apple's numbers for the quarter won't turn out to be as positive, having downgraded Apple stock to "underperform" and lowered their target to $70 from $125.

By David Kaplan