International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), the No. 2 computer maker, reported first-quarter earnings that beat analyst estimates although revenue came in slightly lower than expected.
IBM said operating income rose 7 percent to $3.1 billion, or $2.78 a share, on revenue of $24.7 billion, flat with the year-earlier amount but up 1 percent when adjusted for currency. For the full year, IBM raised earnings estimates to at least $15 a share.
The Armonk, N.Y., company appears to have made a seamless transition to new CEO Virginia Rometty, 51, who succeeded Samuel Palmisano, 60, who remains chairman.
We drove strong profit and earnings-per-share growth, Rometty said.
As well, market researcher Gartner (NYSE: IT) has reported first-quarter PC shipments rose nearly 2 percent. While IBM exited the market, enterprises will need more servers to handle the PCs and new moves toward Big Data, where IBM is a major player, could be bullish as well.
Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected IBM to report earnings rose about 6 percent to $3.07 billion, or $2.65 a share, on revenue of $24.77 billion, from $2.9 billion, or $2.41 a share, on revenue of $24.61 billion.
During the euro zone crisis, technology companies were concerned they'd lose business because of austerity measures. But as it turned out, they were relatively immune because technology spurred needed efficiencies.
Meanwhile, big players like IBM are focusing keenly on the so-called BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - for faster-than-expected growth. For all of 2012, growth in the Americas rose 7 percent compared to BRICS growth of 16 percent.
The pattern continues into 2012. North American sales rose only 1 percent, European and Middle East sales fell 2 percent but BRICS sales jumped 9 percent, with 40 countries reporting double-digit sales gains, the company said.
Usually, IBM CFO Mark Loughridge issues general guidance for the next quarter. IBM, although one of the top chipmakers in its own right, will be waiting for the new Romley server chips from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), the No. 1 chipmaker. It also may have some major new contracts from big enterprises or new customers to handle.
The company already announced it will be more profitable for the full year.
It may also be timely for IBM to report how its Watson supercomputer has been doing providing services to health services giant WellPoint (NYSE: WLP). Newer Watson clients include Citigroup (NYSE: C) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Last quarter, IBM reported cash and investments of nearly $12 billion, most of which is outside the U.S. Cash flow is needed for research, which exceeded $6.2 billion last year, as well as new product development.
As of March 31, the company reported cash and investments exceeding $12.3 billion.
IBM shareholders, now including Warren E. Buffett's Berkshire Hathway (NYSE: BRK/A) also like dividends and share buybacks. There is a general expectation IBM will announce a dividend hike and new buyback at its annual meeting April 24 in Charleston, S.C.
IBM shares now come with a 75-cent quarterly dividend.
Analyst Maynard Um at UBS expects IBM to boost the dividend to $84.75. Last month, he raised his target price to $203 from $195, although he rates the stock only neutral. At Goldman Sachs, analysts last week maintained a buy rating and a target of $223.
IBM shares closed at $207.45, up $4.73, or 2.3 percent. They fell $3.74 to $203.71 after the earning announcement. They are up 13 percent in 2012.
IBM's annual meeting will be held next week in Charleston, S,C., where the company could announce any dividend or buyback news.