IBM: Why Warren Buffett Is Bullish On This Stock

IBM LogoInternational Business Machines Corporation (NYSE:IBM) is one of the world’s largest IT companies. The company has successfully survived several major industry changes. IBM has shifted from mainframes to personal computers, to software services, consulting and outsourcing, and now cloud computing. However, the company’s share prices have fallen recently amid declining revenues as IBM takes key growth initiatives.

More importantly, world’s most respected investor Warren Buffett has accumulated 5.4% stake in IBM by investing more than $10 billion. Buffett has avoided tech stocks for decades. But he couldn’t resist when he came across a compelling tech stock like IBM. Buffett believes IBM is significantly undervalued.

Let’s look at the things that prompted Warren Buffett to break his rule of “avoid tech stocks” and take a $10 billion position in IBM Corp.


Efficient Management

About 20 years ago, IBM was on the brink of bankruptcy. But the efficient management of Lou Gerstner and Sam Palmisano rescued the company and transformed it into an IT giant. Since then, the company has shifted its focus from a low-margin hardware business to IT services. That strategic decision helped IBM increase its earnings by more than 50% since 2007.

In his 2011 letter to shareholders, Warren Buffett praised IBM’s extraordinary operational achievements. He added that the company has equally well financial management capabilities. The better financial management has helped the company boost shareholder value.


Road Maps

IBM creates a road maps, sets future targets and evaluates its current progress. In 2007, the company created its 2010 road map, in which IBM said that it aims to reach EPS of $10-$11 by 2010. Despite the financial crisis, the company surpassed that goal, earning $11.52 per share in 2010. That impressed Warren Buffett.

In 2010, IBM unveiled its 2015 road map. Under the plan, the company aims to spend $50 billion on share buybacks and distribute $20 billion in dividends. The company also aims to increase its EPS to $20 by 2015, and generate $100 billion in free cash flow. In its 2015 road map, IBM has stated to spend at least $20 billion on acquisitions, and increase revenues of its cloud computing division from $3 billion to $7 billion.

The company is on its way to achieve $50 billion share repurchase target. IBM reported $15.25 per share in earnings last year. The company recently raised its EPS guidance for the current year to $16.90 a share. To achieve the $20 non-GAAP EPS, IBM will have to increase its earnings by 8.76% CAGR, which is quite realistic.


IBM’s Moat

Moat or competitive advantage is one of the most important things Buffett looks for in a stock. So, what competitive advantage IBM has over other companies operating in the same niche? IBM is now an IT consulting and services firm. Buffett considers that a wide moat. He says clients are reluctant to change their IT providers. As more and more companies start building their IT departments, they would prefer a trustworthy and iconic brand like IBM.

Shareholder-friendly Policies

IBM’s track record of dividends and share buybacks speaks for itself. Since 2000, the company has spent about $26 billion on dividends and another $124 billion on share buybacks, lowering the number of outstanding shares by 36%. Under its 2015 road map, the company plans to spend $50 billion on share repurchases.

IBM repurchases large amount of its own shares when they are depressed. At the end of the second quarter this year, the company has 1.1 billion outstanding shares, down from 1.72 billion in 2003. That means the company has retired 620 million shares over the past decade, which is pretty impressive.


Solid Financial Position

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Revenue in millions $98,786 $103,630 $95,758 $99,870 $106,916 $104,507
Earnings $7.18 $8.93 $10.01 $11.51 $13.06 $14.37
Dividend per shares $1.50 $1.90 $2.15 $2.50 $2.90 $3.30
Shares outstanding in millions 1,385.2 1,339 1,305 1,228 1,163.2 1,117.4
Net profit margin 10.5% 11.9% 14.0% 14.9% 14.8% 15.9%
Return on Equity 36.6% 91.6% 59% 64% 78.4% 88%


IBM shares have lagged over the past few months after the company’s second quarter revenues missed Wall Street estimates. IBM posted $24.9 billion in sales for the quarter ending June 30, well below the consensus estimate of $25.4 billion. The company took $1 billion workforce rebalancing charge, the benefits of which will reflect in the coming quarters. IBM is reducing its headcount by 7,000 this year to stay competitive and cost efficient in a tough economy.

Despite slow revenue growth in a challenging IT environment, the company’s earnings have more than doubled over the past five years. Its profit margin topped 15.9% (17% excluding workforce rebalancing charges), up from 10.5% in 2007. Warren Buffett was particularly impressed by the company’s return on equity, which increased from 59% in 2009 to 88% in 2012.


Attractive Valuation

Warren Buffett started buying IBM stock in 2011 at around $159. He continued to accumulate the company’s shares until the third quarter of 2012, when the stock hovered between $185 and $197. You might very well know that Buffett believes in buying a wonderful stock at a fair price, instead of a fair stock at a wonderful price. IBM has a P/E ratio of 13.66. Based on the company’s 2015 EPS target of $20, we get a valuation of $273.2. Warren Buffett buys a stock only when it is trading at least 25% below its actual value. That justifies almost everything. The stock is still trading at around $192. It has a P/S ratio of 2 and P/B ratio of 10.2.

Buffett buys a stock and holds it for at least 10 years. All the indicators show that IBM is still undervalued, and should be an obvious choice of a long-term investor.

What are your thoughts on IBM going forward?

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  1. says

    Thoughtful article. I prefer a margin of safety at least 50% or greater, but IBM does offer Buffett a strong company at discounted prices. It’s important to remember that Buffett’s large pool of investing capital means he’s normally unable to invest in small-cap companies where much of the best value can be found. That said, a company like IBM looks like a more attractive value stock.

  2. says

    This is an excellent article on IBM. I like how the company is essentially drowning owners in cash by raising dividends for 17 years, and consistently repurchasing large quantities of stock every year. Given the very attractive valuation, and prospects for future EPS growth, I think the stock is a great buy and hold.

  3. gary wolfe says

    In spite of the praises pf the commentators, I do not believe the management team has the stockholder’s interests in their best sights. The executives have their own interests in mind in everything they do. They pay themselves very well and give themselves generous stock options. This results in the buybacks being very diluted. They end up having to buy the same stock over and over again.

    Still, since they are benefiting themselves so heavily, some of it does benefit the real stockholders. If they allowed themselves only a little graft instead of the huge amounts that the executives get, the real stockholders would finally get some real benefit. Ginny got $50 million in options recently. She has done nothing to deserve such largess. I am sure it is a continuation of what the recent CEOs got.

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