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You May Want to Consider IBM
Posted by: Fede Zaldua (IP Logged)
Date: November 5, 2013 04:32PM

Warren Buffett's investment in IBM (IBM) was his first bet in a large capitalization IT company. After making a $11.7 billion investment (acquiring more than 6% of the company's shares), IBM is now part of Berkshire's “Big Four” investments: American Express (AXP), Coca-Cola (KO), IBM and Wells Fargo (WFC). Buffett made his bet when he saw that the company was successfully building a strong motto around its businesses. Or, in other words, Buffett saw that IBM was building sustainable competitive advantages that would give the company long-term pricing power. Right now, at a time when the S&P 500 index is beating historical records, the company is selling very close to its 52-week low. Should you make a bet on IBM's shares?

The Reasons for Under-Performance

IBM's shares have under-performed the S&P 500 index by 25% year-to-date. The reason can be found in the company's recently weak operational performance. Revenues dropped by 4% year-over-year and, normalizing for tax rate, earnings were 10% lower than consensus. Besides, most analysts remain concerned with weak free cash flow generation (which was down by 22%), weak hardware performance (down by 17% mostly thanks to temporary issues) and a less effective mix in software revenues. Analysts describe IBM's problems as being permanent. They usually write about IBM's ill-positioned hardware business and the fragmented software business.

That said, the combination of margin expansion, buybacks and cost cutting are still driving bottom-line growth – IBM is expecting net margins to expand to 19.1% in 2014 up from 17.9% in 2013 and operating margins should also expand next year to 24.8% from 2013's 22.5%. Moreover, analysts should consider the current context where companies have kept their IT spend at a very low level. Actually, I believe corporate spend in general should be about to boom, so top-line growth should also re-start for companies such as IBM.

Valuation Looks Very Compelling

As I always mention, “Price is what you pay and value is what you get.” Even when I need to admit that IBM's results during the last few quarters were indeed disappointing, I also need to mention that I believe the company's issues are more temporal than permanent and the company's long-term value still looks great.

Corporate IT bosses around the world trust IBM to solve their needs as much as they did a year ago. On top of this, IBM has generated a $8.2 billion free cash flow (FCF) year-to-date and I would expect the company to post a $14.8 billion FCF in 2014. This means that, during 2014, IBM should produce a FCF per share of $13.5. If my estimations are right, the company is now selling for 13 times 2014 FCF per share, which looks extremely compelling for a company which should resume top-line growth and is paying an always growing 2.1% cash dividend yield.

Bottom Line

I truly believe most analysts are underestimating IBM's future potential. The company holds huge value and its management is a good capital allocator. Besides, management is also willing to share the company's cash flows with shareholders through higher dividends and share buybacks. I think that, one more time, Warren Buffet might be just right. All in all, you might want to consider IBM as a part of your portfolio.

Stocks Discussed: IBM, AXP, KO, WFC,
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