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Big Blue Tops Estimates

IBM's growth in overseas sales offset soft domestic sales.
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Updated from 5:05 p.m. EST

SAN FRANCISCO - Fresh off posting more than 11% growth in fourth-quarter profit


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forecast strong earnings growth for the coming year.

With two major product introductions due in the coming months, the company expects 15% to 16% growth in earnings per share in 2008, CFO Mark Loughridge said on a conference call late Thursday.

He projected full-year EPS of $8.20 to $8.30. Analysts were looking for EPS of $7.94 and revenue of $102.6 billion, according to Thomson.

In 2007, IBM grew net income by 9.7% and EPS by 18.5%.

Shares of IBM were up 5% in after-hours trading to $106.19.

However, amid a faltering economy, IBM's domestic U.S. sales did show softening growth during the fourth quarter.

Domestic U.S. sales rose 5% in the fourth quarter, or 2% on an adjusted currency basis, to $11.7 billion. Big Blue

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had disclosed revenue and earnings Monday. Its strong results came largely from outside the U.S.

IBM's software and services revenue to the troubled financial services sector grew at double-digit rates in both the Americas and Asia, Loughridge said.

Overall revenue from Asia/Pacific grew 15%, or 9% on a constant currency basis, to $5.5 billion. Sales to the markets of Europe, the Middle East and Africa rose 16%, or 6% in constant currency, to $10.8 billion.

While the Asia/Pacific region, excluding Japan, grew about 20% for the full year, its profitability grew 40%, Loughridge said.

The Armonk, N.Y. company said Monday that revenue rose 9.9% year over year to $28.9 billion. EPS jumped 24%, to $2.80. A year ago, revenue was $26.3 billion and EPS was $2.26. Analysts had been expecting a top line of $28.2 billion and EPS of $2.68, according to Thomson Financial. Net income was $3.95 billion, up 11.6%, from $3.54 billion in the prior year.

Chairman and CEO Samuel J. Palmisano also attributed the healthy results to growth in services and software.

Technology business services revenue rose 16.4% to $10 billion, while software sales grew 11.6% to $6.3 billion. The company's struggling hardware business fell 3.9%, to $6.8 billion.

But IBM will be looking for a revenue boost in the first half of 2008 from a new zSeries of server equipment and Power6 processors.

Gross profit was 44.9% during the quarter, up 0.3 percentage point year over year.

In 2008, the company is facing significant amortization of intangibles from several acquisitions and higher interest payments on debt drawn in 2007 to enable a large share repurchase, Loughridge said.

But those factors will be countered by "tailwinds" such as an annual pension benefit, a favorable tax plan, good momentum in its services business, strong recurring revenue, and double-digit revenue growth in 50 of the 170 countries in which IBM operates, he added.