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IBM (IBM - Analyst Report) finally broke a multi-quarter slump in the top line with fourth-quarter revenue of $29.3 billion, which surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $29.18 billion. Non-GAAP earnings per share of $5.39 improved 14% from last year and beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate by about 2.7%.

For a while now, IBM's revenue and EPS have been going in different directions, with the former slumping slightly while the latter was able to eke out gains. The top line weakness was attributed to slowing IT spending, which had a big impact on the entire tech sector given IBM's status as a bellwether.

Today's quarterly performance by no means signals a rollicking industry for the fourth quarter, but it does suggest some improvement. It could also be a big benefit to earnings season in general, which didn't inspire much confidence to begin with and hasn't been that encouraging so far.

Revenue was still down 1% year over year, though was flat when adjusting for currency. It was up 1% excluding divested RSS business adjusting for currency. Meanwhile, IBM's earnings surprise may be small, but it gets the company back into the green after only matching in the third quarter. Before then, the company had a very impressive record of consecutive EPS surprises.

For the full year, non-GAAP earnings per share of $15.25 was up 13% and ahead of the Zacks Consensus Estimate at $15.09. Revenue was down 2% at $104.5 billion.

For 2013, IBM expects non-GAAP earnings per share of at least $16.70, compared to our estimate of $16.58.

At the moment, IBM is stuck at a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell). Out of 22 total estimates, there have been no upward revisions in the past 60 days, but there have been 5 to the downside. We'll have to wait and see if today's quarterly report will be enough to lift the Zacks Rank.

We have always believed that IBM had a good long-term picture, due to its key growth initiatives, strong product pipeline, expansion in emerging markets and continuous acquisitions. The short-term, though, was a question mark. Perhaps this quarter will get it moving in the right direction again.

IBM is certainly moving in the right direction after hours, with shares up approximately 3% at this writing.

Stay tuned for a much more in-depth report on IBM's fourth quarter...

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