The Bullish and Bearish Case for IBM in 2014

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2014 is here, and 2013 was a major year of gains for the stock market, with the S&P 500 index rising by more than 29% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) rising by 26.5%. Both major index readings were their highest closing bell prices ever. The question now is what to expect in 2014. 24/7 Wall St. has generated a bullish and bearish scenario for 2014 in each stock of the Dow to see what lies ahead.

What lies ahead for shares of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) in 2014?

For starters, there are many macroeconomic factors to consider. Most Wall Street strategists are forecasting higher price targets for stocks in 2014. This rising tide should lift most ships. The Federal Reserve is about to get a new chairman. It is generally expected that interest rates will rise, but not by massive amounts. The world markets are exiting their recessions at the same time that U.S. gross domestic product is expected to tick up.

The outlook for IBM is one that investors are looking at closely in 2014. After all, it is one of the top index components of the DJIA. IBM was the sole loser on the DJIA in 2013, according to a FINVIZ.com screen of Dow stocks. IBM’s current dividend yield for 2014 is 2.03%, lower than it should be and could be. After it closed out the year at $187.57, its consensus analyst price target is $193.05, and the 52-week trading range is $172.57 to $215.90.

One issue to consider about the continued market gains at the end of the year, on top of an already strong year going into October, is that IBM staged a recovery in the past month of about 4.4%. Otherwise its loss would have been worse. It seems easy to assume that bottom fishers were buying up IBM in the hope that it could reverse its course in 2014.

IBM’s bullish case for 2014 seems to be hinged on the earnings story. Ginny Rometty is hell-bent on the ongoing goal of $20 in earnings per share. This will likely be hit, mostly due to its endless buybacks and cost cuts. Another bullish scenario is that IBM trades cheap to the market against earnings. IBM could also try something transformative, perhaps an acquisition that Wall Street likes. While the consensus price target just over $193 offers some upside, some analysts still have the hope or belief that IBM can rise back to $210 or even as high as $220 over the next year.

The bearish case against IBM is winning the day so far. A key short selling ETF remains firmly against IBM. This $20 per share earning goal by 2015 seems to be gutting the company due to cost controls. Good employees have been leaving handily. Revenue growth is simply not in the equation. Another risk remains this ongoing NSA and Snowden scandal. The turnaround comparison to Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) seems misplaced because IBM was simply not nearly as bad off as HP, and it seems hard to imagine that IBM can replicate that turnaround as a stock with its massive $204 billion market cap. HP is worth only $53 billion, and that is after HP’s stock price almost doubling from its depth-crush bottom. IBM’s dividend seems to be a backseat goal to buybacks and that earnings per share target.

Anything is possible, but we think the current strategy will not work for IBM in the near-term. The company can buy back all the stock it wants, perhaps only keeping less pressure on the shares. If it can find growth or stop sacrificing the future for that $20 in earnings per share goal, then perhaps investors will care that Warren Buffett has remained positive on Big Blue. IBM’s challenges are not as daunting as they were at Hewlett-Packard, so expecting a double in a snap-back rally seems next to impossible.