I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
-- "One Art," Elizabeth Bishop
The latest results from International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM ) really highlight the "International" component of the company. You don't have to make it big in the States every quarter when non-U.S. sales make up more than 60% of revenues -- and the rest of the world is all over your products and services. Lose a continent? You'll miss it, but it isn't a disaster.
That's the case at IBM, where a flat American market was ameliorated by hefty growth abroad, for an overall 6.6% revenue growth rate. Together with stable margins and a hefty share-buyback program, it was enough to meet management's stated long-term goal of 10%-12% annual EPS growth -- at the high end of that range.
Breaking the geography down a bit further can be instructional, too. Out of the four BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) countries, Russia was the laggard, with just 1% growth in reported currency. Brazil and China both topped 15%, while India exceeded 25%.
Maybe IBM can show us where the business scene is really swinging, but I can think of a couple of caveats. Is Russia stagnating, or is it just that local alternatives are competing successfully with IBM's services? Well, no. The closest local sopernik I could find was Sistronics, a software development and support firm that provides only a small part of parent company AFK Sistema's (OTC PK: JSFCY) $9.6 billion in 2006 revenues.
Truly thriving markets should be able to support more than one alternative in any given sector anyhow, a theory supported by Accenture's (NYSE: ACN ) success in India, doing more or less what IBM Global Services does.
Using IBM as a global weather balloon seems to make more sense as a positive indication than as a "nothing to see here" sign. Maybe it's time to rename the BRIC bloc, then -- ICB is a start, but it begs for an "M" at the end. Any takers? Morocco? Moldavia? Maui? I'm kidding about that last part, of course.
So pick up IBM's trail, if you will, and look around in the fastest-growing markets. Some local rivals can be great, and if you do your homework, you won't step into a disaster.
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