IBM On a Tear: Google, Microsoft - Not So Much

Brian.oco 0 Tallied Votes 739 Views Share

A host of tech earnings results are pouring in from all corners, with some confidence-building numbers coming from United Technologies, Nokia and (especially) IBM.

Others were a mixed bag. Microsoft checked in with better-than-expected sales of $15.84 billion for the quarter and earnings-per-share (46 cents) was in the range of analyst expectations. But Microsoft projects a softer year financially than most investors had anticipated, so weak guidance may be the culprit behind Microsoft’s stock being down 5% in after hours trading. It’s slightly worrisome to hear a big dog like Microsoft imply that the rest of the year should hit a sour note, economically. Not the message tech traders want to hear.

Google fared even worse in the trading markets, posting earnings of $4.63 per share when analysts had expected earnings of $4.74 per share, well below the mark it needed to hit. Investors shed Google stock quickly, with the stock off 7% in late Thursday trading.

The big winner this week has been IBM. Big Blue announced on Thursday that its Q2 profits rose 22%, mostly due to its high value and in-demand server and software services division. IBM’s technology services grew 15 percent to $10.1 billion, and business-consulting revenue rose nearly 18 percent to $5.11 billion.

Says the Associated Press this morning: “Investors closely monitor how many new service contracts IBM inks during a particular quarter because it helps gauge the company's future revenue. That figure jumped 12 percent in the second quarter to $14.7 billion.”

Also helping IBM this otherwise troubling year for tech is its outstanding and far-flung global operations. With profit centers dotting the globe, IBM has pulled a page out of the investing handbook and reduced its risk of being beaten down in just one geographical market (like the U.S., for example).

Contrary to Microsoft (and this is where I see a silver lining) IBM has a rosier outlook for its financial picture for the rest of 2008. IBM raised its profit outlook for 2008, saying it expects to earn at least $8.75 per share on the year, an improvement of 25 cents per share over the previous guidance.

It’s positioned nicely in the second half of a down economic year. IBM excels at showing companies how to cut IT costs and do more with less – giving it some real Wall Street credibility with customers who want to learn how to make do with what they have, and not buy any new equipment until 2009, unless they have to.

So far, the IBM saga has been one of the few storybook tales for the tech sector in ’08. Traders like what they see, and have pushed IBM’s stock up from $100 or so in January to $125 per share this week. But the Q2 news, interestingly, didn’t budge the stock upward. IBM stock only rose by 58 cents per share after the Q2 earnings news. I think that investors look at the rubble over at Google and Microsoft; look at the grim energy and lending landscapes, and conclude that the rest of 2008 may be best survived by staying out of the stock market and keeping their money in cash and other conservative investments.

"This is not a good sign in terms of investor sentiment," analyst Shaw Wu with American Technology Research,” told the Associated Press. Even for industries that are doing well, he said, "the fear is inevitably they'll be pulled down by gravity."

As any investor knows, gravity can be a real bitch.