IBM Is Stepping Up Its Game

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Most of the coverage of IBM's (NYSE: IBM  ) fourth-quarter earnings report, issued yesterday, relates to whether Big Blue's expectations-busting quarter is further evidence of a tech rally already underway, spurred on by good news from Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and Infosys (Nasdaq: INFY  ) .

I'm not going to do that. Instead, I want to point you to some numbers from the report that others are ignoring:

  • Total debt fell 23%, to $26.1 billion.
  • Debt unrelated to financing customer purchases fell 61%, to $3.7 billion.

It's because of aggressive debt payoffs that interest expense fell $111 million, or 57%. And that's why IBM earned 10% more in per-share net income in Q4, even in the face of 1% revenue growth. Debt reduction accounted for almost 29% of IBM's earnings gain.

Numbers like these have absolutely zero to do with a forthcoming tech rally, but they are indicators of competent management looking to position the business for the long term.

Revenue growth could return sooner rather than later. IBM said services contract signings improved 9% to $18.8 billion, and included 22 deals worth at least $100 million.

What's more, Big Blue's software division -- where it competes with the likes of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) -- saw a slight bump over last year, mostly thanks to its WebSphere middleware for connecting business systems. WebSphere revenue rose 13%.

In the race to recover from a down economy, you might say IBM is a marathon runner. A sexy, slimmed-down beast that keeps getting in better shape.

But that's my take. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Is IBM worth buying at today's prices? Make your voice heard using the comments box below.

Intel and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Motley Fool Options recommends buying calls on Intel and a diagonal call strategy on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of IBM and Oracle at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy will move the laundry to the dryer after you finish reading, but please, take your time.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2010, at 2:57 PM, KCN007 wrote:

    I'm examining IBM myself as a long-term buy and hold. It's proven to be remarkably well-run, pays a solid dividend, and is a market leader. When the worldwide economy returns to event modest growth IBM will be well-positioned to profit.

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