In another good sign for how the tech industry is holding up, IBM reported solid first-quarter earnings yesterday with profits up 26 percent and revenues up 11 percent.
The New York Times on C3 is quick to note, and The Wall Street Journal mentions halfway into its B3 story, that most of IBM’s business is outside the U.S. and was artificially boosted by the weak dollar, which accounted for seven percentage points of the sales gains. Not counting an acquisition, that means sales were up just 3 percent worldwide.
The Financial Times raises a point that the WSJ and NYT don’t: that IBM is seeing customers become more cautious about spending.
Still, U.S. sales were up 6 percent, as Big Blue “tailored its services and software offerings to help customers cut costs, conserve cash and improve productivity,” the NYT says.
“U.S. companies are not reducing expenditures on technology, and that’s surprising given the gloom and doom,” Carl Claunch, a Los Altos, California-based analyst with research firm Gartner Inc., said in a telephone interview. “Even sales to the financial-services sector went up.”
The NYT reports that worldwide PC shipments were up 15 percent in the quarter, a day after Intel reported increased sales and profit. IBM shares rose to their highest price since 2002.
A silver lining, of sorts
In more earnings news, this time on Wall Street, the WSJ notes in its C1 Heard on the Street column that bad news can be good—when it’s not as bad as expected.
JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo reported lots of bad news but nothing too surprising. Profits fell by half at JPMorgan and by 11 percent at Wells Fargo. Revenue at JPMorgan dropped 11 percent; it was up 12 percent at Wells.
You know the climate is bad when you take $2.6 billion in write-downs on bad debt, set aside another $2.5 billion to cover bad loans, report that your prime-mortgage business—not your subprime, these are the “good” loans— is seeing borrowers miss payments at a much faster rate, and still your shares jump 7 percent.
In a separate story, Bloomberg reports that JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon says “real estate is getting worse” and expects home prices to fall another 9 percent or so this year. It says that JPMorgan saw defaults on its prime mortgages rise to 3.2 percent, though it doesn’t say from what. Fortunately, the FT’s Lex column has it, sort of. It says the delinquencies in that area were less than 1 percent a year ago.
A less sanguine take
The Journal’s David Wessel in his A2 Capital column says that while the risk of utter financial catastrophe is lower than it was a month ago—before the Fed started lending to Wall Street and taking just about any old junk loan as collateral—the real economic pain is yet to peak. He notes that an economic forecaster says the U.S. economy declined in February at an annual rate of 13 percent.
Wessel is on our wavelength here:
But stocks? Predicting their direction is treacherous. If this is truly the worst financial crisis in a generation, is it plausible that the Dow Jones Industrial Average—now down more than 11% from its October peak—has fallen as far as it is going to fall? And if banks are groaning under the weight of bad loans now, further deterioration of the job market and consumer finances can only make matters worse and discourage them from lending.
The bank-earning news sent the Dow up 257 points yesterday.
The WSJ’s Mark Gongloff in a C1 Ahead of the Tape column says “stock and credit markets are once again singing from a different hymnal.” A couple of arcane risk gauges show that short-term loan markets are deteriorating again. Clearly, the credit crisis is “almost over.”
“Something’s going on,” says Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners. “There is stress somewhere based on some institution or some group of institutions. Unfortunately, it won’t be clear until after the fact.”
Sallie sings for her cash drop