Best actor: Apple, IBM, or J Crew?

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The stock market, like Hollywood, has great actors, even when the mood is foul and almost every company is seeing its share prices fall.

The nominees for this season? Apple, IBM, and J Crew.

They're a reminder that great products and great management can buck the downtrend. Sometimes, it's having the right customers that counts.

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Just ask J Crew.

The company's stock soared more than 10 percent Wednesday after the Obamas were seen wearing its clothing at Tuesday's inaugural events (Barack, white satin bow tie; Michelle, olive gloves; daughters Malia and Sasha, brightly colored coats, dresses, and other items).

Being suddenly cool could help the struggling apparel firm, whose stock has plunged from its 52-week high of $50.35.

For Apple, the high-tech company that defines cool, the key was great products. Despite the general plunge in retail sales and health concerns involving CEO Steve Jobs, the company on Wednesday reported record quarterly revenue ($10.2 billion) and net profit ($1.6 billion), mostly on the strength of its international sales. Apple's $1.78 earnings per share topped analysts' estimates and sent Apple shares soaring more than 5 percent in morning trading.

IBM demonstrated superior management. Although its quarterly revenue fell 6 percent from a year ago, it reported Tuesday that its profits had risen 10 percent to $4.4 billion, beating analysts estimates.

The driving factors, according to IBM CEO Samuel Palmisano, were disciplined cost controls, big cash reserves, and its concentration on high value services and software.

"While I completely understand that 2009 will be a challenging economic environment, we enter the year in a very strong position," Mr. Palmisano said.

These companies' share prices have not escaped the general gloom. The risks to their businesses remain. But against the background of losses and job cuts, they're shining like stars right now.

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