One of those fundamental changes that only come to be widely recognized long after they have happened is taking place in the perception of IBM – but there could be no better evidence that such a change is happening than that on Tuesday, when the Dow Jones average made its fifth successive all-time high of 2,012.94, IBM was not only the most actively traded stock, with 4m changing hands, but also made a new 12-month low of $116.375, off $4 on the day. The immediate cause was a Heard on the Street note in the Wall Street Journal, rounding up from analysts the negatives about IBM that we have been highlighting over the past few weeks – but behind that is the more significant fact that IBM is no longer the market bellwether it was universally agreed to be even six months ago. It is now just beginning to be accepted that while the computer market is far from buoyant, IBM’s poor performance has much more to do with IBM’s own internal problems than it does with the state of the market – and evidence of this acceptance was that DEC on Tuesday saw its shares rise $1.625 to $118.50, to close at a higher price than IBM for the first time. And although the relationship between the IBM and DEC share prices is fundamentally meaningless it is psychologically important, and adds body to the tide that is running for DEC. It became for the first time respectable in 1986 for long-term IBM users to say that they planned to spend the bulk of their new computer dollars with DEC and not IBM, and there are signs that DEC is building up the kind of momentum that will need a lot more from IBM than the cosmetic 9370s if it is to be reversed. There are widows and orphans out there who grew up with the idea that investing in IBM stock was safer than putting their savings with Uncle Sam, and those people are hurt and bewildered as they watch the value of their savings eroded. IBM will have a hard time regaining their faith.
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