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IBM Restructuring Could Bring Staff Cuts And Management Changes

IBM is promising details in the coming months after reporting slow revenue growth in the first quarter.

The lackluster performance led CFO Mark Loughridge to concede during a conference call Thursday that "some sizable restructuring activities" are pending. Details of the changes will come in the next three months and will be "primarily designed to move decision making closer to the customer," he said. Yet analysts and insiders already are speculating on job cuts.

IBM'S revenue grew 3%, including currency gains, to $22.8 billion for the three months ended March 31. Net income rose 2.9% to $1.4 billion.

The quarter didn't meet Wall Street analysts' expectations, but it was hardly disastrous. Still, the numbers reveal some worrisome signs. The company's vaunted services arm saw a year-over-year sales increase of just 3%, excluding currency gains. "There is definitely some execution issues there," Caris and Co. analyst Mark Stahlman says. IBM saw a significant drop in small services transactions near the end of the quarter and had a hard time closing sales. "We always have deals that don't close, but more than the normal level slipped this quarter," Loughridge said.

As a result, IBM may be poised to shake up its services business. The company could be planning staff cuts within its U.S. services arm of up to 10%, says Lee Conrad, who heads Alliance At IBM, an employee group connected to the CWA union. "We've been getting reports from our members that cuts of that level are in the wind," he says. An IBM spokesman calls the claim "speculative fabrication."

German media reports say the company is planning to cut up to 2,500 jobs in Western Europe and move work to lower-cost facilities in Eastern Europe. Analyst Stahlman suggests management changes may also be coming within IBM Global Services. "Based on the way [CEO Sam] Palmisano tends to approach these situations, I wouldn't be surprised if he replaces some senior management," Stahlman says. IBM Global Services is headed by John Joyce, the company's former CFO.

Beyond services, IBM saw mixed results in other parts of its business. Excluding currency gains, revenue from hardware fell 2% year over year to $6.7 billion. Within that, sales of Unix-based pSeries systems were strong, increasing 12%. That was offset, however, by an 11% drop in sales of mainframe computing power.

Total software revenue was flat at $3.6 billion. Middleware sales increased 3% to $2.8 billion. Sales of IBM's DB2 database software were particularly strong, growing 9%, while sales of its Tivoli infrastructure-management software climbed 15%. Operating revenue decreased 2% to $590 million.

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