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Cramer: IBM can take a hint from these high-flying consumer names

  • Jim Cramer says IBM's earnings bombed because its turnaround was not fast enough.
  • CEO Ginny Rometty still has room to improve, but if not, shareholders might rebel.
  • Cramer said IBM could use takeover advice from Coca-Cola, McDonald's, or Wal-Mart.

Wall Street turned negative on IBM after the tech giant's earnings showed yet another year-over-year revenue decline, so Jim Cramer examined the company's botched turnaround and compared it to three successful transitions that were marred by IBM's slide.

"IBM failed to demonstrate that it's made a successful transition from the slow-growing basic mainframe and software business to the fast-growing cloud computing, cognitive, artificial intelligence areas that are so vital to restoring the company's revenue growth after 20 straight quarters — yes, 20 straight quarters — of declining sales," the "Mad Money" host said.

Cramer said IBM's problem was not being able to sign on enough new business to push its numbers higher. Instead, it focused on maintaining its legacy business so as not to drag its entire earnings report down.

Despite the market's negativity about IBM and rumors that the company only beat estimates due to one-time gains in areas such as licensing intellectual property, Cramer says the name still has promise.

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"When you consider that IBM's got a 3.5 percent yield, an incredible base of installed business, a partnership with Salesforce.com that should begin to produce results even in the second half of this year, and the CFO's promise that the unsigned business will be signed very soon ... I do not want to sell IBM's stock around $160. I'd rather buy it," he said.

Still, the company could take some hints from three companies whose strong comebacks were lost amid the IBM-related chaos: Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Wal-Mart.

On Tuesday, Credit Suisse analysts upgraded Coca-Cola's stock from a "hold" to a "buy" rating, arguing that with CEO Muhtar Kent's push to make the company leaner before stepping down on May 1, the company can focus on global growth and franchising — "what it does best," the note said.

The analysts also argued that Coca-Cola's re-franchising of slower-growing parts of its chain like the bottlers would help the company deliver long-awaited earnings-per-share growth.

"I trust the Credit Suisse report. I trust Coca-Cola. I think the turn really is at hand and Muhtar Kent has made it so his successor, [Coca-Cola President and COO James] Quincey, will be coming in hot," Cramer said.

And although Cramer prefers PepsiCo because of its booming snack business, he said Coca-Cola's strong balance sheet and juicy 3.4 percent yield makes it an attractive bet.

McDonald's has also seen a formidable turnaround at the hands of CEO Steve Easterbrook, who has pushed the company to simplify its menus, add natural and organic ingredients, introduce all-day breakfast, and implement consumer-friendly, cost-saving technology at some locations.

"That makes these franchisees more attentive, more willing to hire new workers, and more amenable, focusing on making the stores cleaner, brighter [and] more competitive in an increasingly dog-eat-dog fast-food world," Cramer said. "In short, the turn here is real."

Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon has also led the company to new highs with turnaround efforts he put into motion when he took over as the chain's chief in 2014.

McMillon's initiative pushing higher wages slashed employee turnover, saving Wal-Mart a considerable amount in training costs.

Spending on e-commerce led to better offers for customers and presence in the stay-at-home economy. And with a 2.75 percent yield, the consumer play paid investors to wait for the comeback.

"The bottom line: I say turnarounds take time. You need to be patient, so I say hold onto your IBM, because they can still get it right," Cramer said. "That said, unlike Coke, unlike McDonald's, unlike Wal-Mart, the fact that IBM's turn hasn't happened yet since [CEO Ginny] Rometty took over in 2012, makes me feel that if they don't get it right this year, then maybe the shareholder base, perhaps even largest shareholder Warren Buffett, will demand to bring in a new leader who can finally get the job done."

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