Dow Earnings Season Rolls On: Will IBM Top Intel's Success?

The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has gotten a lot of support from earnings season so far, setting new all-time record highs on Wednesday on the strength of tech giant Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC  ) second-quarter report. This afternoon, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) will add its name to the list of Dow-component tech stocks reporting earnings, and investors are anxious to find out whether one of the most influential stocks in the Dow will be able to follow in Intel's footsteps and finally play a leadership role in the Dow's bull-market run.

Source: IBM.

IBM expects to release its earnings report after the market closes Thursday afternoon, with last quarter's report becoming available to the public at around 4:05 p.m. EDT. The Dow component will then hold a conference call at 4:30 p.m. EDT in order to discuss the results.

Investors expect IBM's financial results to continue a trend that the tech giant has seen lately, with revenue expected to decline despite a solid increase in earnings per share. Unlike Intel, which has continued to remain reliant on traditional PC-related products for a substantial portion of its overall success, IBM has largely moved on from the hardware segment. Instead, IBM has focused on providing higher-margin services, software, and other offerings to enterprise customers, taking advantage of the rise of data analytics to help clients build full-service platforms to evaluate their own business prospects.

IBM's strategy makes sense and is similar to what a number of its peers have done, leaving lower-margin businesses by the wayside as they try to take advantage of better opportunities elsewhere. But at least this quarter, the strategy means that IBM won't necessarily see any benefit from the explosion in PC demand that helped drive Intel's success during the quarter. With enterprise customers in the midst of a hardware replacement cycle, Intel now thinks businesses will replace PCs with newer models at least for the rest of 2014 if not into 2015 as well. IBM won't benefit directly from that trend and can only hope that it can get some secondary positive effects from greater enterprise spending.

Source: Alfred Lui via Flickr.

The other reason IBM will have difficulty topping Intel's results is that IBM faces a lot more competition in its selected core businesses. Due in large part to the decline in PC sales over the past several years, competitors haven't bothered to challenge Intel's dominance of the failing segment, and that put Intel in the best position to capitalize when that trend turned around. By contrast, IBM faces a price war in certain cloud-computing services, and several other large tech companies both within the Dow Jones Industrials and without are all vying for the same business from enterprise clients.

If IBM can deliver even a modest positive surprise, the resulting upward movement could have a larger impact on the Dow Jones Industrials than Intel's boost yesterday. The most important factor in whether Intel will move markets tomorrow is whether it can implement some of its bigger-picture ideas and start executing more effectively for the long run.

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