By Jon Fortt
January 14, 2008

The market was all set to throw itself a big pity party, and along comes IBM to ruin it all. But it’s too soon to say Big Blue’s sunny report will be enough to breathe life back into tech stocks.

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Good news from the tech bellwether sent the overall stock market higher this morning, and boosted IBM’s (IBM) own stock price by 7 percent in early trading. The company, which serves as a gauge of corporate technology spending, pre-announced fourth quarter operating earnings that were 24 percent higher than a year ago, and fourth quarter revenues that rose 10 percent to $28.9 billion, both beating analyst expectations. The company’s full report is due Thursday.

Still, a little perspective is in order. Even at the heights of its Monday rally, when it danced around $105 per share, IBM stock is short of the $111 reached just a couple of weeks ago. And it’s far from the 52-week high of $121 per share it achieved last fall.

When it comes down to it, IBM’s earnings pre-announcement offers little new information. Ever since Cisco (CSCO) CEO John Chambers in November spooked Wall Street by signaling that large U.S. companies aren’t spending like they used to, tech investors have been in a funk. But Chambers also offered upside: In a global economy, tech companies like Cisco aren’t as reliant on the buying whims of big domestic corporations. Oracle (ORCL), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Intel (INTC) have echoed that sentiment, and more than a few tech executives lately have quietly grumbled that investors are overdoing their bearish reaction to the U.S. slowdown.

What, then, to make of the IBM pre-announcement? CEO Sam Palmisano gave some interesting spin:

“The broad scope of IBM’s global business — led by strong operational performance in Asia, Europe and emerging countries — drove these outstanding results,” he said in a statement. “IBM is well-positioned as we begin 2008 as a result of our global business reach, solid recurring revenue stream and strong financial position. We are on track to achieve our long-term earnings-per-share roadmap objective in 2010.”

A translation, for those who don’t speak CEO:

“U.S. corporate buyers don’t look so hot, but thanks to a weak dollar and overseas customers, we’re making the best of it. Since no one expects the dollar to perk up soon, that overseas income should keep us looking good in 2008. Don’t forget, we have a huge services business, so customers pay us to fix their old stuff even if they don’t buy new stuff! And we have $16 billion in the bank! So don’t panic. Look! Profits!”

Palmisano’s pre-announcement was a nice gift to traders after last week’s rout, but tech’s not out of the woods yet. With more and more voices on Wall Street worried about a recession, it could be hard to keep investors feeling optimistic. We’ll see how well Palmisano does later this week, when he’s sure to face lots of questions from skeptical analysts.

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