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IBM seen posting Q4 growth, headwinds expected in 2012

The IBM logo is seen outside the company's offices in Petah Tikva
The IBM logo is seen outside the company's offices in Petah Tikva

(Reuters) - IBM Corp is expected to report solid fourth quarter results on January 19 under new chief executive Virginia Rometty as investors look for news about the potential impact of the Eurozone crisis and currency headwinds in 2012.

For IBM, a bellwether stock due to its global reach and wide range of corporate and federal customers, analysts on average expect operating earnings per share of $4.62, a more than 10 percent increase from the quarter a year earlier.

Fourth quarter revenue is seen at $29.7 billion compared with $29.0 billion in the last quarter of 2010, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Barclays was expecting a modest EPS upside for IBM's fourth quarter, but that "aging product cycles in hardware, currency headwinds and decelerating global economies should likely limit any upside to IBM's top-line" in 2012.

The euro hit a 16-month low last week, but rose against the dollar after two days of losses.

Poor results from software maker Oracle Corp last month and a cautious quarterly outlook by consulting firm Accenture Plc have spooked investors already worried about the ramifications of economic problems in Europe.

But last week, SAP AG, the biggest maker of business software, cheered investors with better than expected sales and profits thanks to strong demand for software and data analytics products.

Investors will also be keen to get a feel for new chief executive Rometty, a long-time IBM manager who succeeded Sam Palmisano on Jan 1.

Rometty is credited with the smooth integration of PriceWaterhouseCoopers' consulting arm, which IBM bought nearly a decade ago in June 2002 as it transformed itself to focus on higher-margin businesses such as data analytics and services that help customers solve business problems with technology.

Rometty is expected to continue to implement Palmisano's growth strategy aimed at reaching an operating EPS of at least $20 by the end of 2015.

Investors will also be looking for the number of signings of services contracts, an early indicator of future business revenue.

The shares of the Armonk, N.Y.-based company, closed with a 0.84 percent gain on Tuesday at $180.

According to equity research firm StarMine, which gives more weight to forecasts from the historically most accurate analysts, IBM trades at 12.3 times its estimated 12-month forward earnings, a premium to peers Oracle and Hewlett Packard Co, which are valued at multiples of 10.8 and 6.4 times, respectively.

(Reporting By Nicola Leske; editing by Andre Grenon)

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