NEW YORK – International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) shares slid for the fifth straight day Friday to a low not seen in nearly four years as investors bet that the No. 1 computer maker will miss current earnings estimates due to depressed tech spending.
IBM, which sells everything from personal computers to computer services to software, reflects the extended downturn in the technology industry, analysts say, and that means its quarterly and annual results won't measure up.
Lehman Brothers and SoundView Technology Group on Friday joined other Wall Street investment banks that took action earlier this week, such as M and lowered forecasts for the Armonk, N.Y.-based company.
IBM's stock, which has lost ground each day this week, fell on Friday by nearly 4 percent, or $2.83, to $68.75 -- its lowest level since October of 1998.
"It's just a reflection of the lack of catalyst, or lack of improvement in spending, at least near term," said Sunil Reddy, a portfolio manager for Fifth Third Bank in Cincinnati , Ohio.
"At $70, I think it's pretty attractive but the fundamentals in the technology industry have not improved, to say the least," Reddy said. Fifth Third owns shares in IBM.
IBM, once seen as a safe-have investment immune to the technology downturn, has come under pressure this year as the lack of spending on technology by corporations has cut into its once consistent earnings growth.
The company's Chief Executive Officer, Sam Palmisano, who took over in March from now Chairman Louis Gerstner, has since sold the company's hard disk drive business, set broad job cuts and seen IBM through its largest earnings drop in nearly a decade.
HARD DISK DRIVE SALE A SMART MOVE
Reddy said IBM's sale of its hard disk drive business was a smart move even though it will make the earnings picture complicated.
IBM announced earlier this month that it would sell its money losing hard disk drive business to Japan's biggest electronics maker, Hitachi Ltd, and take a $2 billion to $2.5 billion charge for that sale and other restructuring measures.
The restructuring includes an estimated 7,000 job cuts so far this year and the write-off of assets of the company's microelectronics business. IBM's microchip business has been in a slump related to an overall decline in demand for chips.
"It really is not possible to tell where we are with IBM right now because of all these changes that have taken place which they haven't given information on, including the sale of the hard disk drive business," SoundView analyst Gary Helmig said.
He expects the company to restate its earnings for previous years to account for that business as discontinued operations. That, he said, could make revenue growth appear higher even though the absolute numbers will be lower.
Helmig lowered per share earnings estimates to 88 cents from 91 cents for the second quarter, to $4.21 from $4.28 for 2002 and to $5.14 from $5.20 for 2003.
Lehman analyst Dan Niles said that he cut his 2002 and 2003 revenue estimates by $3 billion, estimating 2002 revenues at $79.5 billion and 2003 revenues at $83.5 billion.
Niles also lowered his earnings estimate for 2002 to $3.95 per share from $4.15 per share and 2003 earnings at $4.50 per share from $4.80 per share.
According to research firm Thomson First Call, a consensus of analysts see earnings per share of 84 cents in the second quarter, $4.05 for the year and $4.77 in 2003.
IBM shares fell 43 percent this year while the American Stock Exchange Computer Hardware Index dropped 25 percent.