Shares of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) fell in overnight trading after it beat earnings estimates. That’s not a typo. IMB stock dropped almost 3%, shedding about $4 billion in market cap, after the company announced results that beat earnings estimates and showed the first year-over-year revenue growth in five years.
While there are now some bulls pounding the table for IBM stock, they may be lonely voices, once investors dig into the numbers this morning.
The highlight will be 32% growth in “systems” revenue — mainly from the company’s new IBM Z mainframes — while numbers in other areas were essentially flat. IBM can’t upgrade its mainframe line every quarter, and it will find growth hard to come by if its “strategic imperatives” revenue, as CEO Ginni Rometty calls it, doesn’t grow faster.
IBM Stock: Cloud, Security, Analytics
The “strategic imperatives” for IBM today are cloud, security and analytics. IBM is hyping blockchain technology, but its growth in those areas did not beat analyst estimates.
Rival cloud companies like Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) are seeing steady growth of 30% or more per year. IBM is not competitive at the lower-end of the cloud, in raw infrastructure pricing, and it must depend on software and services revenue for growth.
Revenue from technology platforms and cloud came in at $9.2 billion, down 1%, while revenues from cognitive services like the formerly-hyped Watson system were flat in constant currency. The company also took a $5.5 billion charge moving profits in from overseas, meaning GAAP earnings were negative, by $1.05 billion. That charge won’t recur, but it came out of the blue.
While software sales grew, the company admitted on its conference call this was mainly mainframe software upgrades, both operating systems and transactions processing applications. IBM mainframes remain the dominant player in transaction processing, but even there, some companies are getting off the mainframe platform.
Going into earnings, IBM stock was also rising on an upgrade from Barclays analyst Mark Moskowitz predicting the company would become a bigger player in cloud. IBM’s failure to deliver on that promise hurt it once the final numbers came out.
The company’s estimates of 2018 earnings just matching those of 2017 also disappointed analysts who were expecting earnings to accelerate this year. IBM once promised earnings of $20 per share, but they are now promising to just match 2017’s $13.70.
The vaunted IBM press office, which once touted world-changing technologies, is left touting partnerships like one with Salesforce.com, Inc. (NYSE:CRM), or the potential of blockchain, which it is building out with industrial partners such as Maersk.
If IBM could get its results in line with what its press office delivers, it would be a solid buy.
Who Should Buy IBM Stock Now?
IBM does not trade like a tech stock. It trades like an old-line industrial, like a Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) or General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), with a price-to-earnings ratio of about 14, and a market cap barely twice its revenue. The investors who should be interested in it are income investors looking for a dividend, which is $1.50-per-share, and which it does cover with earnings resulting in a yield of 3.55% at the Jan. 18 closing price.
Dividend yields, of course, compete with safe bond investments. The 10-year U.S. treasury bond opened for trading on Jan. 19 at 2.6%, and the 30-year at 2.9%. This means IBM stock remains a good bet for an income investor, and it will be yielding 3.6% if it keeps its overnight losses when trading opens.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the historical mystery romance The Reluctant Detective Travels in Time, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in F and AMZN.