Why Credit Suisse Is Warning Against the Massive IBM Rally

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) has enjoyed a huge recovery in 2016. As of the close of April 12, IBM’s stock was actually the fifth best performing Dow Jones Industrial Average stock of 2016, with a total return of over 9.8%. IBM has been plagued as a business, representing a no-growth tech zombie without direction and with a management strategy of engineered earnings that had no real underlying strength.

But what if all the negative hype just went too far? 24/7 Wall St. recently saw other analyst calls signaling that perhaps its strong performance in 2016 might be indicating that the endless negativity may have been overdone. Credit Suisse has been the most bearish of all major brokerage firms in its analyst ratings.

Despite another negative analyst becoming less negative, Credit Suisse’s Kulbinder Garcha is telling investors that they better not fall into believing that IBM’s recovery is sustainable. Garcha has an Underperform rating and he maintained his very negative $110 price target on shares of Big Blue. Investors should be aware that Garcha’s target had been a tie for the street-low, versus all other analyst price targets.

Garcha sees IBM’s revenues not likely stabilizing until 2018. He also thinks that much of IBM’s business is being impacted by the cloud operations of competitors.

Perhaps most important here is that the investing community keeps talking about how cheap IBM is in its valuations. Garcha debunks the myth that IBM is a value stock.

Wednesday’s research call comes about five days ahead of IBM’s earnings report for the first quarter of 2016. Credit Suisse sees revenue at $18.2 billion and earnings per share (EPS) of $2.13, versus a consensus of $18.2 billion and $2.08 EPS. Garcha said:

We believe top line won’t stabilize until 2018, with the commentary on Japan tax benefit adding confusion on the earnings per share guidance. We see a painful multi-year turnaround from here, which drives underperformance.

On the core IBM suffering, Garcha said:

We believe that large parts of IBM’s business (hardware, operating systems, services) is being impacted by the Cloud, which represents more than 40% of the overall business. While the SI segments (35% of sales, or $29 billion in absolute dollar terms) may indeed grow at 13% per year, the decline in the core has been accelerating ($51 billion of sales, declining 11% last year on a constant currency basis). This would suggest that revenues may not stabilize until 2018 at the earliest, based on our analysis.

Credit Suisse is forecasting revenues to fall 3.6% to $78.8 billion in 2016 and to fall another 1.6% to $77.5 billion in 2017. Again, stability in revenues is not expected until 2018.

Garcha is warning for investors not to fall into the “stock is dirt cheap” trap. Garcha’s case for IBM not being distressingly cheap debunks that the headline price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 11 does look inexpensive on the surface. That being said, when compared with similar large cap turnaround names, IBM is currently trading at 14 times its free cash flow and 14.4 times its enterprise value versus free cash flow (EV/FCF) compared with a trough valuation of 7.6 times free cash flow and 7.0 times the EV/FCF basis on average.

Watson is supposed to be doing great for IBM, but Garcha remains concerned about how this is valued today versus reality. His report said:

IBM increasingly sees Cognitive Solutions as a driver of the business and aims to build a business around the Watson platform that can address a $3 trillion market, for which IBM could achieve an addressable market as high as $400 billion-plus. While we do believe the opportunity here is significant, it is also very early, with the commercial impact of such initiatives that may take several years if not decades.

One issue that 24/7 Wall St. always has focused on has been IBM’s massive backlog of services. This has been in decline, and Credit Suisse has pointed out that IBM’s backlog is running at historically low levels. Garcha said:

IBM’s backlog at the end of the fourth quarter of 2015 was $121 billion, down 5% year over year with TTM book-to-bill of 0.98-times. Additionally, we note that TTM aggregate signings till Q4-2015 is $48 billion, down 7% year over year with TTM short term signing growing to 15% from 10% of two years ago. Third, we see deferred income down 5% year over year in 2015.

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