It may be the end of an era, but few people on Wall Street are shedding tears at the news that
may be selling its long-suffering PC business to a Chinese computer maker.
"It's about time," said Bill Gorman, a vice president of PNC Advisors, which holds shares of Big Blue. "Besides
, who's making money in that business?"
In recent trading, shares of IBM were up $1.65, or 1.7%, to $97.41.
The sale is expected to fetch $1 billion to $2 billion, according to a Friday report in
The New York Times
, which said a deal is likely to include all of IBM's desktop, laptop and notebook computers.According to the article,
, China's top PC company, is among the interested bidders. The company is better known by its former name, Legend Computer.
IBM is refusing to comment on the news, saying it won't address "rumors," but the company made no efforts to knock the story down, and few analysts doubted its truth.
Although IBM popularized the personal computer for business use, it has not done well as a seller of PCs for years. It's been running a distant third in market share to Dell and
and, more significantly, is making little money in the business.
"The Personal Systems Group contributes about 13% of IBM's revenue, but has virtually no impact on earnings," said David Wong, an analyst with A.G. Edwards. PSG, as it's called, includes printers and point-of-purchase devices, but the vast majority of its revenue is derived from PC sales.
Wong said his valuation of IBM (he has a buy on the stock) won't change whether the unit is sold or not, and he doesn't think the sale will cause a major competitive shift in the PC landscape. (A.G. Edwards is seeking investment banking business with IBM.)
In the late 1990s, the PC business threatened to inundate IBM under a wave of red ink, losing just under $1 billion in 1998 alone. Shaken by the losses, IBM scaled the business back and in 2002 sold all of its remaining U.S. PC manufacturing plants to
. In fact, IBM does not own a single PC manufacturing plant anywhere in the world, though it does control some through joint ventures or contracting arrangements, said IBM spokesman Clint Roswell.
Despite the losses, the PC business does get IBM into many doors and allows the company to sell much higher margin products and services. Rather than risk losing that business, IBM may well keep the brand name and distribution and allow Lenovo to do the manufacturing, speculated Merrill Lynch analyst Steven Milunovich.
Milunovich called the apparent divesture "a moderate positive" and said that "given our traditional view that IBM was trying to be all things to all people, we have been impressed with the narrowing of focus." (Merrill has an investment banking relationship with IBM.)