Boring. That's what many will say about computer giant IBM's
Perhaps more peculiar than boring, though, is that the company's stock has declined by 2% over the past 52 weeks. That's an unfair punishment for a company that delivered such a strong performance over that period.
Just delve into IBM's numbers. There's $10 billion in cash for rainy days. Take out the financing unit's debt -- it's fair to do if you're looking into operations, since the heavy debt that financing units necessarily hold shouldn't darken the day for the rest of a company -- and IBM's debt-to-capitalization ratio is a small 2.2%. Oh, and don't overlook that this quarter's income from continuing operations was a record $3.1 billion, compared with $2.7 billion a year ago. That's a lot of extra green.
Investors would be wise to note that the company used its 2004 wellspring of cash to pay $1 billion in dividends and repurchase $7.3 billion of its own shares, a record return of capital to shareholders.
IBM is also spending strongly for its future. Research and development, as a percentage of sales, grew from 5.7% in 2003 to 5.9% in 2004. That's $5.7 billion spent in 2004 to keep IBM blazing a technology trail that has amassed more than 700 nanotechnology-related patents and bragging rights to the world's fastest computer. And it's also worth noting that, in percentage terms, IBM's R&D spending is higher than that at competitor Hewlett-Packard
Critics will point to the faster growth at Microsoft
Still, IBM is selling for 16 times what analysts expect it to earn in 2005 -- and its dividend yield is a modest 0.8%.
But at its core, IBM remains a vibrant technology company that's growing sales and earnings while it invests strongly in the future. It's still a sound investment for conservative investors looking for stability with strong long-term growth.
Are you looking for value investments? Take a free look at the Motley Fool Inside Value newsletter to find good companies with great potential that, for whatever reason, are in Wall Street's penalty box.
Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned.