IBM raises earnings outlook despite weak tech spending
NEW YORK/BOSTON - IBM raised its full-year earnings target, even as it posted a quarterly revenue shortfall, reflecting its ability to manage costs as global technology spending sputters.
International Business Machines Corp, a bellwether for the IT industry because of its global span and breadth of businesses, now expects full-year earnings per share - excluding items - of at least $15.10, versus at least $15.00 previously.
Unlike other companies, IBM said it had seen a strong June and Chief Financial Officer Mark Loughridge said he was "pretty confident going into the next quarter."
Smaller companies such as Informatica said earlier this month conditions "dramatically" worsened in June with customers scrutinizing deals more closely and possibly signaling a broader pullback in tech spending .
Despite Loughridge's confidence, IBM -- like rivals Hewlett-Packard Co and Oracle Corp -- continues to grapple with declining corporate budgets as the European crisis tightens spending and emerging market growth decelerates.
The company known as Big Blue has been compensating by shifting its focus from hardware to higher-margin services and software over the past decade but software revenue was flat in the quarter and services was down 2 percent.
IBM said on Wednesday its revenue fell 3 percent to $25.8 billion in the quarter, missing average expectations of $26.27 billion. It said it took a $1 billion hit because of a weaker euro and other foreign exchange headwinds that translate into fewer dollars.
IBM generates about 60 percent of its revenue outside the U.S. While revenue in the Americas declined by only 1 percent, the drop in Europe, Middle East and Africa was 9 percent. The Asia-Pacific region grew a mere 2 percent.
Loughridge told analysts on a conference call after IBM reported earnings that the company foresaw a $2 billion hit from foreign currency factors in the second half.
Other companies that have a similar global reach will grapple with currency effects as well, said Andrew Bartels, analyst at research firm Forrester.
Some analysts expressed confidence that IBM would continue to manage any impact on revenue.
"I am not concerned about revenue growth," said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein & Co, citing "IBM's ability to deliver against its EPS objectives, especially given the significant cost reductions the company is taking this year."
Others said that while they appreciated the raised earnings targets, revenue growth would be appreciated as well.
Richard Sichel, chief investment officer for Philadelphia Trust Co, said it was encouraging to see IBM raising its profit forecast after a string of recent earnings disappointments by other technology firms. But he said investors also wanted to see sales rise.
"You want to see earnings grow by top-line growth and not by cutbacks and buybacks and that sort of thing," he said.
IBM said second-quarter earnings per share, excluding items, was $3.51, beating average analysts' estimate of $3.43.
A number of companies such as Cisco Systems Inc have cautioned that tech spending may slow down in the second half of 2012 and companies such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc have warned that earnings would suffer.
IBM shares rose 2.5 percent to $193 in extended trade, from their New York Stock Exchange close of $188.25.
The stock has fallen 11 percent in the three months since it reported a quarterly revenue shortfall when it last released earnings.
Those results raised concerns among some investors that the stock had gotten ahead of itself after hitting a record high of $210.69 on April 3. The broader Nasdaq composite index has fallen 4 percent over the past three months.
"The big message is they beat EPS handily and they're raising the full-year EPS target, and that's probably enough for the stock to keep working," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Amit Daryanani. "It's a sign that this company can keep executing despite the revenue headwinds they have."