There were plenty of positives in the quarterly results from IBM, Microsoft and Intel, as the tech titans tackle a tough economy.



NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Thursday was a big day for the tech sector with heavyweights IBM (:IBM), Microsoft(:MSFT), Intel(:INTC) and Google(:GOOG) all reporting quarterly numbers after market close.

Despite growing concerns about the global economy, particularly debt-ridden Europe, IBM, Microsoft and Intel all beat Wall Street's earnings forecasts, with chipmaker Intel also edging analysts' revenue projections. IBM was among the companies reporting results after the markets closed Thursday.

Google, however, was less fortunate, missing Wall Street's profit estimate by almost a dollar and ducking below analysts' sales prediction. The Internet giant blamed foreign currency fluctuations for its lowered revenue, although CEO Larry Page noted that quarterly sales surpassed $10 billion for the first time.

Either way, three decent results out of four isn't bad, and there were plenty of positives out of the conference calls at IBM, Microsoft and Intel.

Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein, for example, said that enterprise spending is helping the software giant deal with a sagging PC market. "The overall business environment remains strong for us," he said.

Revenue from the software giant's Server and Tools business grew 11% year over year, boosted by double-digit growth in Windows Server and SQL Server premium. Sales of Exchange and SharePoint products also climbed 10%, while revenue from its Lync communications software and Dynamics CRM grew by more than 30%.

Still, though, weakening PC sales helped push revenue from Microsoft's Windows and Windows Live division down 6% year over year.

Nonetheless, Microsoft refused to be beaten down by the soft PC market. "In terms of PCs -- there's still growth, we're still in the refresh cycle," explained Klein during the conference call. "Emerging markets will continue to drive PCs."

Intel also put a healthy spin on PCs during its fourth-quarter conference call. The world's biggest chipmaker has thrown its weight behind a new category of super-skinny laptops, dubbed ultrabooks, which it claims will breathe new life into the ailing personal computer market.

"I haven't seen this level of excitement in the customer base since 2003," said Intel CEO Paul Otellini, explaining that more than 70 ultrabooks will launch this spring. "People are very excited about the feature set and having the PC re-energized."

During the fourth quarter, revenue from Intel's PC client group grew 17% year over year, outpacing its Data Center Group, which enjoyed 8% growth.

Over in Armonk, N.Y., IBM no longer needs to worry about the vagaries of the PC market, after selling its PC business to Lenovo. IBM, however, had other things in common with its fellow tech behemoths on Thursday.

Like Google, for example, Big Blue felt the impact of currency fluctuations, which shaved about $300 million off the firm's $29.5 billion revenue. On a more positive note, IBM, similar to Microsoft, has been reaping the benefits of emerging markets.

Growth markets, as they are known in IBM-speak, enjoyed revenue growth of 7% during the fourth quarter, outpacing the Americas and Europe, which grew, respectively, 3% and 1%. The growth markets segment accounted for a massive 22% of IBM's total annual revenue, according to a statement released after market close.

Also like Microsoft, IBM saw enterprise strength, particularly in its software business, where quarterly revenue was up 9% year over year.

"We have got real momentum going into 2012," explained Mark Loughridge, the IBM chief financial officer, during a conference call, citing demand for the company's WebSphere and Tivoli products. "Software should be able to deliver double-digit profitability once again."

IBM's hardware business, though, was weighed down by a tough comparison with record mainframe sales in the prior year's quarter. As a result, revenue from the company's Systems and Technology Group dipped 8% year over year.

The tech giant, which celebrated its centennial last year, nonetheless offered up robust guidance, much to the delight of investors. IBM said, excluding items, it expects to earn $14.85 a share in fiscal 2012, above the current analysts' estimate of $14.82 a share.

Buoyed by the guidance, IBM's shares rose $4.88, or 2.7%, to $185.40 in extended trading. The company also reiterated its commitment to deliver operating earnings per share of at least $20 in 2015.

Intel shares crept up 18 cents, or 0.7%, to $25.81 after market close, while Microsoft gained 68 cents, or 2.42%, to reach $28.80.

Google's stock, on the other hand, plunged $57.67, or 9.02%, to $581.90.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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