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Strong Earnings Aren't Enough in This Stock Market -- Just Look at These 2 Stocks

By Dan Caplinger - Jan 22, 2021 at 12:57PM

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The stock market gave up ground as the week drew toward a close.

The stock market has moved up considerably this week, but investors were ready to coast into the weekend on Friday. Market participants have now put most of the big-picture catalysts driving markets higher behind them, and now it's up to fundamental business performance to pick up the slack. As of 11:45 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -3.74%) was down 131 points to 31,045. The S&P 500 (^GSPC -4.14%) fell 9 points to 3,844, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC -4.71%) eased lower by 19 points to 13,512.

Most shareholders are used to seeing their stock prices go up when a company reports earnings results that are better than expected. However, that hasn't always been the case during the current earnings season. Indeed, Intuitive Surgical (ISRG -4.36%) and IBM (IBM -4.26%) are both down sharply on Friday morning despite putting up numbers that seemed like they should've pleased their investors.

Man at desk with head in hands and stock charts on computer screens

Image source: Getty Images.

A healthy quarter for Intuitive Surgical

Shares of Intuitive Surgical fell 5% on Friday morning. The decline came despite unexpectedly strong bottom-line growth for the robotic surgical platform provider.

Intuitive Surgical had already told investors that its sales would be significantly better than expected, with preliminary figures showing a $100 million top-line beat to come in at $1.33 billion. What shareholders learned Thursday evening was that pro forma earnings would be $3.58 per share, more than 10% higher than the consensus forecast among those following the stock and up about 4% year over year.

However, Intuitive Surgical wasn't able to give shareholders every possible assurance that its success would continue. The company once again chose not to make any predictions about what impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on operational and financial results, but it did say that the surge in cases toward the end of 2020 and into January will continue to have an adverse impact on procedure volumes.

Intuitive Surgical's stock performed well in 2020, so it's not surprising to see it taking a pause after earnings. What's important is whether the robotic surgical system specialist can get things back to normal as the pandemic comes under control in the months ahead.

Big Blue has the blues

Shares of IBM fell even more, dropping 10% near midday on Friday. The computing giant has made a lot of progress in making a transition toward a heavier emphasis on cloud computing, but investors still seem unsure whether Big Blue can keep up the pace with other big technology company rivals.

IBM's fourth-quarter results included some encouraging news. Adjusted earnings for the quarter came in better than expected, even though they fell 56% from year-earlier levels. IBM's cloud initiatives produced results, with total cloud revenue climbing 19% year over year and making up more than a third of the company's overall sales.

Yet even though the bottom line looks good, IBM still has some questions to answer. One source of concern came from the software segment, where sales fell 4.5%. More broadly, the fact that Big Blue saw an overall 5% drop in revenue for the full year in 2020 gave shareholders lingering concerns about when a cloud-based turnaround will finally result in top-line growth for the entire company.

Investors are looking at strategic moves like the pending spinoff of the managed infrastructure services business as a long-term potential positive for IBM. However, they'd prefer to see more concrete signs of progress more quickly. Until they do, even good news on the earnings front won't necessarily be enough to push the stock higher.

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Stocks Mentioned

Intuitive Surgical, Inc. Stock Quote
Intuitive Surgical, Inc.
$215.37 (-4.36%) $-9.81
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
$31,434.00 (-3.74%) $-1,223.73
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD) Stock Quote
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD)
$3,919.72 (-4.14%) $-169.13
International Business Machines Corporation Stock Quote
International Business Machines Corporation
$132.47 (-4.26%) $-5.90
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return) Stock Quote
NASDAQ Composite Index (Price Return)
$11,419.76 (-4.71%) $-565.13

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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