After hearing from Wells Fargo (WFC), JP Morgan (JPM), Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS) investors have a pretty good look at the current state of American banking. Tonight, tech steps up to the plate when two titans, Intel (INTC) and IBM (IBM), report their first quarter result after the close. [In the interest of disclosure I'm long Intel]
IBM and Intel are well-managed, fully exposed to global IT and personal tech spending, and king of their respective sub-industries. They're also known for conference calls that are not only forthcoming on the state of their business but insightful on their industries as a whole.
What the companies have to say about themselves will drive Intel and IBM's next moves. What they say about the global economy will set the tone for tech for the rest of the earnings season.
Here's what we need to hear from each company:
Estimates: $0.50 EPS on $12.9b in revenues
Intel needs to find a next-step growth plan. The company has near-monopolistic power in laptop and desktop PCs, meaning a slow-down from already depressed levels of growth would be a substantial challenge for the company's growth opportunities.
One of the reasons Intel's stock has been a long-term laggard is that they're "not part of the mobile wave with iPad and iPhone," says Jack Ablin of Harris Private Bank. Investors "need to see evidence that these chips are going to be in a prominent place going forward."
One way of finding growth from within is the once-hyped "Ultrabook" segment Intel unveiled to great fanfare earlier this year. It seems a huge long-shot that Ultrabook sales will prove robust, but expectations for the product are extremely low. Ablin says he's "not sure where the Ultrabooks fit in." He's not alone but Intel has the chance to explain tonight.
Let's just say there's a reason the company still trades at less than 12x earnings. Positives for Intel include the launch of Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows 8. Bulls say the worst case scenarios are priced into the stock, leaving substantial upside potential in a better than disaster scenario.
Estimates: $2.65 EPS on revenues of $24.8b
IBM is as close to a sure-thing as earnings reports get. They are masters of keeping analysts informed and maintaining stable relationships with customers, allowing them to create predictable revenue streams.
They are "a good overall picture of the economy both in the U.S. and worldwide," says Ablin. Noting that a quarter of IT spending comes from financials, he wants to see if "Big Blue" has been able to effectively spread into industries less impacted by the ongoing financial slowdown.
The company reported $12b of cash last quarter. In this, the year of the dividend, investors will be waiting to hear what IBM plans to be doing with their "extra" cash. If not handing some of their bounty back to shareholders specifics on new initiatives should be expected.
And of course there's Watson, the champion of Jeopardy and, more practically, the basis of core server technologies.