The news follows a quarter in which a 5.5% Y/Y revenue drop led IBM's SG&A spend to rise to 21.6% of revenue from 20.2% a year earlier, and its R&D spend to rise to 5.7% of revenue from 5.4%.
In addition to its huge buybacks, much attention is being given to the role an 11% tax rate (down from 16% in Q3) played in boosting IBM's earnings. Fund manager Mike Bergen estimates EPS would've been $0.80 lower if Big Blue's tax rate was at the 23% level expected by analysts.
Software (+3% Y/Y) was a relative bright spot, thanks to healthy middleware (+15%) and database (+5%) sales. "Cloud revenue," a catch-all phrase covering a variety of hardware, software, and services sales, rose 69% Y/Y to $4.4B, boosted by the SoftLayer acquisition.
2013 free cash flow was $15B, less than net income of $18B. IBM ended Q4 with $11.1B in cash, and $12.2B in non-global financing debt. CEO Ginni Rometty insists IBM is on track to hit its 2015 EPS goal of "at least" $20.