NEW YORK — IBM, the world’s largest provider of computing services, hasn’t convinced investors that it can pull out of a sales slump, sending the stock to its first annual decline since the financial crisis in 2008.
Even as the company boosted its dividend and added about $20 billion to its buyback plan, the stock became the only loser in the Dow Jones Industrial Average in 2013. The shares dropped 2.1 percent in the past year, compared with a 26 percent gain for the index.
Revenue has fallen for six straight quarters, dragged down by sluggish demand for computer hardware. That’s forced Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty to rely on job cuts, tax gains and asset sales to keep increasing earnings per share. Technology investors would prefer a company that’s growing, said Todd Lowenstein, a portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management.
“We don’t think investors are going to be paying up for financially engineered EPS,” said Lowenstein, who helps oversee $17 billion in assets. He no longer holds IBM shares. “In tech, most people want to see top-line growth, and IBM is just not part of that trend. IBM is part of the cluster of old tech companies considered dinosaurs of yesteryear.”
The technology giant, based in Armonk, N.Y., is coping with an industrywide transition into the cloud era, where information is stored online instead of onsite. While IBM is getting an increasing amount of revenue from cloud services, the shift has spawned a new crop of competitors and eroded demand for traditional hardware and services.
Still, the company remains on target to reach $20 in adjusted earnings per share in 2015, up from $15.25 last year. Cost reductions and a shift into more profitable businesses have helped maintain the growth.
Michael Fay, an IBM spokesman, declined to comment on the stock trading.
The company embarked on a restructuring program last year, cutting jobs globally. More than 3,300 workers were dismissed in the U.S. and Canada alone, according to Alliance@IBM, an employee group. Some U.S. contract workers also were ordered to lessen their hours, according to a memo obtained by Bloomberg.
In the third quarter, a more favorable tax rate contributed 30 cents a share to earnings, said David Grossman, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus, in a note at the time. That helped the company boost earnings to $3.99 a share, excluding some items – 3 cents more than the average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg.
Even as earnings per share grew, the stock continued to fall, signaling that investors were increasingly concerned that IBM’s strategy was failing to produce growth, said Kulbinder Garcha, an analyst at Credit Suisse.
“It’s now coming to a point where they are almost doing everything they can to get to that earnings number,” Garcha said. He downgraded IBM’s stock to the equivalent of a sell rating this year. “They need to start thinking about some serious reinvestments and repositioning the company.”
Half of the analysts who covered IBM recommended buying it at the beginning of 2013, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That has fallen to less than a third today.
Rometty has identified the nascent cloud industry as one of IBM’s biggest growth opportunities. In her biggest acquisition since taking over as CEO at the beginning of 2012, IBM bought cloud-computing storage company SoftLayer Technologies – paying about $2 billion.
IBM reported more than $1 billion in sales from cloud services last quarter, the first time it has disclosed revenue from that segment. That wasn’t enough to keep total sales from falling for a sixth straight quarter.