After some brief excitement following the closing of its Red Hat deal, International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM) stock is back in the doldrums.
Shares were due to open Aug. 22 at about $134.20. They’re down 7.5% over the last year, and almost 30% over the last five years. Shareholders are still getting a $1.62 per share dividend that yields 4.84%, but Red Hat blew a huge hole in the balance sheet and IBM stock price. IBM debt on June 30 was over $58 billion.
IBM needs a new story to tell. Red Hat, and the “open hybrid cloud,” is that story. IBM has created Open Shift “Cloud Packs” for all its hardware, with hopes of making all computers into clouds. This includes IBM Z-Series mainframes.
Whitehurst for IBM CEO?
What analysts say they want from IBM stock is Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst in current CEO Virginia Rometty’s chair. They want Red Hat running IBM.
That wasn’t the promise when this deal was put together. The promise was that Red Hat would get autonomy from IBM, not that IBM would lose its autonomy to Red Hat. But Whitehurst’s concept of an Open Organization has excited analysts who don’t even know what it is.
If IBM became an Open Organization, these analysts think, it would replace the top-down structure IBM has used for a century with an organic system in which employees and customers are part of the product design process. Instead of selling gear or even solutions, IBM would become a corporate change agent.
Rometty’s IBM is a hollowed-out shell, analysts think, dedicated solely to its dividend and hierarchies. Can Whitehurst really teach it to dance?
Everybody Gets a Cloud
The 2010s have become the “cloud decade” with $4.5 trillion of market cap locked inside just five companies with scaled networks of cloud data centers.
Whitehurst’s vision is that every company and organization gets its own cloud, using the clouds of Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) seamlessly, and only when needed.
This is now IBM’s vision. So, the analysts ask, why isn’t Whitehurst running IBM?
It’s because IBM also has a host of other software and hardware platforms, including older, proprietary Unix operating systems, and the Z-Series software of its mainframes. They are on what senior Vice President for Cloud Arvind Krishna calls a “multi-year journey” toward compatibility.
In short, it will take years for IBM stock to become what Whitehurst wants it to sell.
The Bottom Line on IBM Stock
International Business Machines has been run like an old-fashioned industrial organization for decades. Even if Whitehurst became CEO tomorrow, it would take him years to transform the company.
IBM shareholders are income investors focused on the dividend, which costs IBM nearly $1.5 billion to service each quarter. Then there’s the interest on that debt which, even at 5% would cost nearly $3 billion a year to service. So far, IBM’s only financial response to Red Hat has been to halt its stock buybacks, on which it spent $1.2 billion in the last year.
IBM earned $8.7 billion in 2018 and could hit that mark again, assuming its third quarter earnings come in as expected. Whether it can be transformed and perform like a real tech company is purely speculative at this point.
But if it can, the gains would be huge. Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), considered stodgy by Silicon Valley standards, is worth $177 billion with sales of $40 billion. IBM is worth $113 billion on sales of $79 billion. IBM is a long-shot speculation with a 5% yield.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of the environmental story, Bridget O’Flynn and the Bear, available at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in AMZN and MSFT.