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Is International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) Losing its Luster?

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It’s no secret that the market has been on a tear since the beginning of 2013. At this point, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 18% to start the year, excluding dividends.

At the same time, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), the stock that has the biggest effect on the price-weighted Dow, has held the index back from even stronger returns this year. That’s because, despite Big Blue’s reputation as a secure blue chip stock, shares of IBM are actually down year-to-date.

Does IBM’s under-performance to start 2013 represent a strong buying opportunity? Or should investors look elsewhere for better opportunities?

A bump in the road, or a sign of things to come?

International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)Over the past couple of years, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) has carried a higher valuation than many of its technology-sector peers. To illustrate, consider that IBM trades for 9 times its enterprise value to EBITDA, whereas Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) hold multiples of 5 and 6 times, respectively, on the same metric.

That’s because investors became accustomed to International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) routinely posting better growth than its technology brethren, and as a result, Big Blue hasn’t been branded with the same ‘old tech’ label as its two peers have.

Plainly stated, Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) and Microsoft are two companies that are still reliant on the personal computer, which analysts and technology experts claim is a dying technology. Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting that Microsoft and Intel suffer restrained valuations because of it.

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Intel trade much more like mature consumer staples stocks than technology stocks. Each are now counted on for their dividend yields more than earnings growth, the reverse of how technology stocks traditionally behave.

Microsoft and Intel both provide dividend yields well ahead of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)’s yield or the yield on the broader market, at 2.9% and 3.9%, respectively.

The market is now concerned that IBM’s own growth trajectory is in doubt. IBM’s last quarterly report was not well received by the market, and shares have steadily declined in the ensuing weeks.

Revenue declined 3% in International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)’s fiscal second quarter, in what is quickly becoming a troubling pattern. This was IBM’s fifth consecutive quarterly decline in revenue, and the struggle to grow sales is likely behind recent investor pessimism.

Profits also fell by 17% year over year in the most recent quarter, due to both lower sales and a $1 billion charge for a previously announced workforce restructuring.

That being said, earnings still topped analyst estimates, and IBM raised its forecast for the rest of the year.

In addition, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) has such a proven history of success that I’m tempted to believe the company’s problems are short-term in nature, and will turn around when business conditions improve.

Over the long term, IBM remains a winner

IBM has a corporate track record that most companies would love to have. The company has provided investors superb revenue and earnings growth throughout its history, and the past few years have been no exception.

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