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The Zacks Analyst Blog Highlights:Microsoft, J. C. Penney, Apple, Google and Companhia de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo

CHICAGO, April 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Zacks.com announces the list of stocks featured in the Analyst Blog. Every day the Zacks Equity Research analysts discuss the latest news and events impacting stocks and the financial markets. Stocks recently featured in the blog include Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT), J. C. Penney Company Inc. (NYSE:JCP), Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL), Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) and Companhia de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo, or SABESP (NYSE:SBS).

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Here are highlights from Thursday's Analyst Blog:

MS Office 365 Uptake Continues

The world's largest software maker Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq:MSFT) is seeing success in the government and education sectors. Its Office 365 suite won eight customers including the City of Kansas City, Mo; the City of Seattle; Dupage County, the University of Miami; the University of Colorado, and King County, Wash among others.

The suite won on different counts at these players. While the Kansas City government and the City of Seattle chose the solution to increase operational efficiency, reduce IT costs and lower carbon footprint , the University of Miami chose it to serve as a common platform of communication for its 40,000 odd students. The Miller School of Medicine's adoption of cloud services makes sense as it is situated in an annual hurricane zone. The adoption of the service will ensure business continuity even in the face of adverse conditions.

The Office 365 suite equips these organizations with advanced technologies, thereby improving operational efficiency and resource allocation. It also facilitates communication and collaboration among organizations and at the same time reduces IT expenses of government and education organizations and their partners across the world.

Office 365 is sold as a service and therefore generates ongoing revenues for Microsoft instead of a one-time licensing fee. Launched in 2011, the new Office comes with the traditional word processing, spreadsheets and email programs.

Microsoft's Office 365 is gaining traction in the market as it recently launched its online version focusing on touch devices. Further, it is being deployed at the stores of retailers such as J. C. Penney Company Inc. (NYSE:JCP) and U.K.-based Tesco as well as government departments such as the Texas Department of Information Resources, which chose the software for inter-departmental activities. The latest to join the bandwagon is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which also signed a MoU with Microsoft. Further, Microsoft's software expanded in the healthcare sector. It also launched a specialized version for businesses as well as for student communities. 

Currently, just like other PC makers, Microsoft is also battling the slump in the PC market caused by the sluggish economy. In addition, the popularity of smartphones and tablets from Apple (Nasdaq:AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) are cannibalizing PC market sales, further deteriorating the scenario. Whether it can come out of the slump on the back of its new software and OS is a wait and-see game.

According to research conducted by IDC, cloud-based services may grow into a $100.0 billion market by 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.0%. Cloud services are expected to drive growth in IT going forward, generating 41.0% of overall growth in IT by 2016. Thus, the strengthening of Microsoft's position in the segment is encouraging as the PC market is showing no signs of revival in the near future.

Microsoft reported revenues, excluding deferrals, of $21.46 billion in the second quarter of fiscal 2013, which were up 34.0% sequentially and 2.7% from last year, in line with our estimates. All except the Entertainment & Devices segment grew both sequentially and from the year-ago quarter. Entertainment & Devices were down year over year.

Microsoft has a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold).

SABESP Upped to Strong Buy

Zacks Investment Research upgraded Companhia de Saneamento Basico do Estado de Sao Paulo, or SABESP (NYSE:SBS) to a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) on Mar 27, 2013. The company is a Brazil-based water and sewage service provider and currently has a market capitalization of $10.7 billion.

Why the Upgrade?

Financial results for the year 2012 posted by SABESP on Mar 21, 2013 were impressive.  The company's earnings per share, as reported by SABESP, were R$8.39, up 56.2% year over year. In ADR terms, earnings came in at US$8.61. Net revenue in the year inched up 8.2% to R$10.8 billion (US$5.5 billion) on the back of higher water supply, sewage collection and treatment, and construction revenue. Billed water and sewage volume rose 2.7% year over year. Water volume produced increased 2.2%; water connections crept up 2.6% and sewage connections rose 3.5%.

SABESP reported declines in cost and expenses in 2012. As a percentage of revenue, cost of sales and services plummeted 60 basis points to 60.1%. Gross margin came in at 39.9%. Operating expenses, including selling, administrative and other expenses declined 7.2% year over year and represented 13.4% of the total revenue.

Solid financial results in 2012 and positive earnings surprise in two out of four trailing quarters, with an average of +11.5%, have raised our optimism for better results in the years ahead for SABESP. In the last 7 days, the Zacks Consensus Estimate for 2013 went up by 8.9% to US$4.54 per ADR while that for 2014 increased 19.9% to US$5.18 per ADR. Also, we have an Earnings ESP (Read: Zacks Earnings ESP: A Better Method) of +7.7% for 2013.  

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About Zacks Equity Research

Zacks Equity Research provides the best of quantitative and qualitative analysis to help investors know what stocks to buy and which to sell for the long-term.

Continuous coverage is provided for a universe of 1,150 publicly traded stocks. Our analysts are organized by industry which gives them keen insights to developments that affect company profits and stock performance. Recommendations and target prices are six-month time horizons.

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