The market reaction tomorrow to IBM’s third quarter earnings, announced after the close today, will tell investors and traders a lot about what this market regards as a disappointment and how vulnerable U.S. stocks are to less than exciting earnings results.
IBM reported adjusted earnings of $3.29 a share. That beat Wall Street projections for $3.23 in earnings by 6 cents. Revenue came in at $19.23 billion versus the Wall Street consensus of $19.01 billion. That still represents yet another year over year decline in revenue of 0.3% from the third quarter of 2015. This is as close as IBM has come to recording year over year revenue growth but the drop in revenue in the quarter adds another to what is now a string of 18 straight quarters of falling year over year revenue.
IBM didn’t raise guidance for the fiscal 2016 year, leaving it at $13.50 for the full year (excluding non-recurring items). That’s a penny below the Wall Street consensus estimate for 2016.
In after hours trading shares of IBM initially moved up to $157-$158 from the close at $154.77, but shares then fell back to send the season at $149, about 3.75% below the day’s closing price.
I think you can argue IBM’s results either way.
Yes, it is disappointing that the company reported another drop in revenue, but IBM did come closer to growth. And revenue from cloud services, analytics, mobility and security–the core of IBM’s growth plan–climbed 15% year over year. Cloud revenue gained 42%; revenue from analytics grew by 14%; and revenue from mobility increased by 19%. That compares favorably to last quarter when cloud revenues were ahead by 30%. But the company’s plan to replace its old hardware and service growth engines with growth from new sources is taking a long, long time, and, frankly, the markets aren’t very patient at the moment with companies that are showing lackluster growth.
What makes IBM such an interesting test case for market sentiment on this quarter’s earnings is the stock’s positioning near support at $152 to $153 and then additional support at the 200-day moving average near $148. IBM’s first half of 2016 rally stalled near the downward trend line at $164. There’s resistance, then, at $158 and at the September highs near $160 to $162.
A rally above $162 on these so-so earnings would argue that the market is inclined to pay up for even modest growth that exceeds current low expectations. A drop on today’s earnings to say $148 or so would be business as usual for IBM shares given investor skepticism. But a break below the spring lows near $142 would tell me to watch out this earnings season.