NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Dell Inc., the number two maker of personal computers, Thursday reported fourth-quarter earnings that topped forecasts and sharply higher sales that were in line with Wall Street estimates.
The stock rose modestly after hours as the company indicated that demand for technology gear appears to be increasing.
Dell said that stronger than expected sales of servers, storage and printers lifted results. During a conference call, Dell chief financial officer Jim Schneider said the company was "very encouraged" by the pickup in volume on the corporate side during the quarter.
The Round Rock, Texas-based company reported earnings of $749 million, or 29 cents a share, compared to net income of $603 million, or 24 cents a share, a year ago. Analysts expected Dell to post earnings of 28 cents a share, according to First Call.
Sales came in at $11.5 billion, an 18 percent increase from a year ago. For the full year, Dell said net income rose 25 percent to $2.6 billion, or $1.01 a share. Sales jumped 17 percent from a year ago, to $41.4 billion.
In addition, the company said that it will meet the current consensus estimates for the first quarter. Analysts are expecting sales of $11.2 billion and earnings of 28 cents a share.
Shares of Dell (DELL: Research, Estimates) inched up slightly in after-hours trading, according to Island ECN. The stock dipped less than 0.5 percent in regular trading on Nasdaq Thursday and is down about 6 percent since it reported strong fiscal third quarter results in November.
No guidance boost? No problem.
It's worth noting that Dell avoided the after-hours bloodbath that other big techs experienced after reporting strong fourth quarter results. Intel, Cisco and Yahoo!, for example, all fell victim to what appeared to be extremely high expectations.
Long-term fans of Dell said they were happy that there were no major surprises in the results or the forecast.
Zack Shafran, manager of the Waddell & Reed Advisors Science & Technology fund, which owns Dell, said some investors were concerned that January sales were going to be a bit soft. So the fact that Dell beat earnings estimates was "a sigh of relief."
Dell rival Hewlett-Packard retook the PC market share lead in the fourth quarter, sparking some fears about a price war in the industry. HP said Wednesday that it expects its first-quarter earnings to match analysts' estimates and that sales would be slightly higher than expected. HP is due to report on Feb. 19.
In a written statement, Dell president Kevin Rollins seemed to indicate that the company did not get caught up in a price war.
"Much of the industry's quarterly growth was at the low ends of the desktop and notebook categories, which offer little if any profitability. Dell met its operating targets by pursuing profitable growth," said Rollins.
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During the conference call, Rollins added that the PC business has improved remarkably since the industry's trough of a few years ago. He also said that corporate demand, while not "explosive" should continue to grow steadily this year.
"This is just another sign that the economy is stronger than people expect. It's great news for bigger technology companies like Dell," said Knox Fuqua, manager of the AAM Equity fund, which owns shares of Dell. To that end, shares of HP, Intel and Cisco all rose after hours.
Dell may have needed to boost guidance in order to get its stock moving significantly higher but Fuqua said this is now a great buying opportunity for the stock. Dell trades at about 27.5 times earnings estimates for this fiscal year and earnings are expected to increase by 21 percent.
And Daniel Boone, managing partner with Atlanta Capital, which owns Dell in the Calvert Social Investment Equity fund, said investors shouldn't worry about Dell's outlook because the company focuses on giving Wall Street reasonable numbers that it can meet, as opposed to setting the bar low.
"The market has gotten really sensitive to surprises and expectations. But I don't think there is a game being played by Dell. It just manages the business well," Boone said.