About five years ago, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) announced “Ginni” Rometty would become the company’s board chair in addition to her role as chief executive officer. As an ugly anniversary present, IBM continues to be one of the worst performing Dow components this year. And, over the course of the past five years, it has dropped 31% while the Nasdaq has risen 106%. There is no catalyst likely to cause the shares to recover.
IBM’s shares have fallen so much because the company has reported revenue declines for 21 quarters. But that is old news, and stock prices are usually valued on what investors believe about the future. In IBM’s case, this is primarily a question of whether its cloud and AI initiatives can grow fast enough to more than offset attrition in its traditional hardware, software and consulting businesses. The evidence at this point is that the answer is no.
IBM puts out about a press release a day to show its progress. In reality, the flood of information only shows how modest, or nonexistent, IBM’s advances to fix its business have been.
Among the most misleading threads of IBM announcements is its lead in patent grants. According to the company, it has had more patent grants in the United States every year for 24 years. In 2016, it was granted 8,088 patents, the first time a company had topped 8,000 in any one year. IBM’s descriptions for the reasons behind its patent leadership:
This is the result of our commitment to strategic R&D that drives progress in business and society. IBM provides its researchers with freedom, time and resources to explore and patent their ideas. And when those ideas take off, IBM is ready to use the patented inventions to develop leading-edge products and services and protect its freedom of action in the marketplace.
Contrast the number to Amazon.com Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) patent grants for the same period, which hit 1,662, and Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) at 2,012, and it is clear patents are hardly a measure of success.
Another major announcement from IBM that appeared to be important, at least according to the company, was a research alliance with MIT. The marriage actually may mean very little to IBM’s future. The two organizations announced:
IBM and MIT today announced that IBM plans to make a 10-year, $240 million investment to create the MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab in partnership with MIT. The lab will carry out fundamental artificial intelligence (AI) research and seek to propel scientific breakthroughs that unlock the potential of AI. The collaboration aims to advance AI hardware, software, and algorithms related to deep learning and other areas; increase AI’s impact on industries, such as health care and cybersecurity; and explore the economic and ethical implications of AI on society. IBM’s $240 million investment in the lab will support research by IBM and MIT scientists.
There is no evidence that IBM will get a dime of revenue because of the expensive relationship.
IBM can continue to announce scores of relationships and product innovations. Few have proven, and may never prove, that the company has made advances to put its revenue growth back on tract, which is the primary reason the shares have not recovered and likely will not.