(Bloomberg) -- International Business Machines Corp., the world’s biggest computer-services provider, forecast profit that exceeded analyst estimates as the company shifts to data analysis and cloud computing.

Earnings in 2013 will be at least $16.70 a share, Armonk, New York-based IBM said in a statement. That compares with the $16.64 average estimate of analysts tracked by Bloomberg. Fourth-quarter profit, excluding items such as amortization and pension costs, rose to $6.1 billion, or $5.39 a share.

In her first year of leadership, Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty has pushed for a transition to more profitable businesses such as software for data analysis and away from hardware, which is becoming a commodity product. The company is aiming for $20 in earnings per share by 2015.

“They’re constantly evolving their strategy,” said David Grossman, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co. in San Francisco. “They’re purging underperforming contracts and balancing mature business that generate cash with the newer, more promising markets like analytics.”

Sales slipped about 1 percent to $29.3 billion. That compares with the $29.1 billion average estimate of 21 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg.

IBM gained as much as 4.4 percent to $204.65 in extended trading after closing at $196.08. The shares rose 4.2 percent in 2012, climbing to a record.

The company has struggled to increase revenue as it shifts to software and data analysis. Sales have remained close to $100 billion since 2007, with last year’s revenue at $104.5 billion.

 

Five-Year Plan

 

Rometty succeeded Sam Palmisano in January of last year to become the first female CEO in the company’s 101-year history. She helped put in place a five-year plan to draw most profit from software by 2015.

“She had some big shoes to fill, and expectations were very high,” said Josh Olson, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in Des Peres, Missouri. “This could be characterized as an adjustment year, one where she is mapping her course, and it’s largely been similar to what we’re used to from IBM.”

Last year, Rometty divested the retail hardware business, purchased software and data analysis providers, and added technology to help customers access data from remote computers through cloud computing. IBM has also been trying to squeeze out more revenue from its consulting contracts while seeking new deals in emerging markets.

IBM’s services backlog -- its expected future revenue from contracts -- totaled $140 billion in the quarter, compared with $138 billion in the third quarter. Contract signings for services, which make up about 60 percent of IBM revenue, fell 12 percent from a year earlier to $17.9 billion.

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