Stocks fell on Wednesday, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.15%) and the S&P 500 (^GSPC -0.04%) indexes posting moderate declines.

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Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

Financial stocks saw some of the heaviest trading, and the Financial Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLF -0.32%) only slightly trailed the broader market with a 0.3% decrease. A 1% decline in gold prices, meanwhile, helped drive an 8% drop in the leveraged bullish bet on the precious metal, Direxion Daily Junior Gold Miners Bull 3X ETF (JNUG 2.03%).

As for individual stocks, IBM (IBM 0.05%) and Intuitive Surgical (ISRG 0.68%) attracted heavy investor interest following their quarterly earnings releases.

Outside the stock exchange in New York.

Image source: Getty Images.

IBM keeps shrinking

Shares of IBM weighed heavily on the Dow, falling almost 5%. The tech titan posted declining operating results for its fiscal first quarter as sales dipped 2.8% to $18.2 billion and net income dove 13% to $1.75 billion. Increases in its cognitive solutions segment failed to offset shrinking figures at its other key business divisions.

Specifically, IBM logged a 2.1% uptick in cognitive solutions revenue but endured a 2.5% decrease in the tech services and cloud unit in addition to declines in consulting services and systems hardware and software.

Gross profit margin fell nearly 4 full percentage points to 42.8% of sales and free cash flow declined to $1.09 billion. However, aggressive cost cuts helped limit the drop in operating income to just 1%. Research and development spending ticked up to $1.53 billion from $1.46 billion a year ago.

In a press release, CEO Ginni Rometty focused on encouraging demand that management is seeing in pockets of their services portfolio. "In the first quarter," Rometty said, "both the IBM Cloud and our cognitive solutions again grew strongly, which fueled robust performance in our strategic imperatives."

The company reaffirmed full-year guidance that calls for earnings of at least $11.95 per share. In the meantime, executives plan to continue plowing cash into strategic growth initiatives like cloud services and cognitive solutions to put the business back on the path to revenue growth.

Intuitive Surgical speeds up growth

Intuitive Surgical shares surged more than 6% to pass the $800 mark after the high-tech medical instrument specialist announced solid quarterly earnings results. Sales growth sped up to a 13% pace from the prior quarter's 12% as procedure growth hit a new high of 18%.

A surgeon at work.

Image source: Getty Images.

The company's systems revenue growth might appear soft at just 4%. However, executives explained that this figure was held down due to the timing of new product launches that deferred a chunk of revenue recognition. Focusing on system sales to account for that temporary shift shows plenty of evidence of robust demand given that Intuitive Surgical shipped 133 of its core da Vinci surgical platforms in the quarter, compared to 110 systems in the prior-year period.

"We are pleased with broad-based da Vinci procedure growth during the first quarter," CEO Gary Guthart said in a press release. Furthermore, the company is "encouraged by trends in key global markets and our U.S. general surgery business," Guthart added.

Looking forward, Intuitive Surgical aims to build on the strong procedure growth momentum it recently won. Given the sharp spike in the stock price lately, investors have to hope that the expansion pace stays robust and that Intuitive Surgical continues to book solid profit gains despite aggressive investments in research and development spending.