IBM exceeded Wall Street earnings expectations with a whopping $3.1 billion profit in the fourth quarter.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) said in its earnings report Tuesday after the markets closed that profits soared past $3 for the first time and earnings hit $1.81 per share on total revenue of $27.7 billion.

Analysts had expected earnings 5 cents a share less on slightly lower sales.

Looking ahead, IBM said it expected 2005 to be a strong year as well with revenues projected to be $102 billion, up from $96.5 billion in 2004.

In its earnings report, IBM said it reaped benefits of a weak dollar and when earnings were adjusted for currency fluctuations, margins were lower.

Overall, IBM said profits were up 25 cents per share, profits were up $400 million, and total revenues were up $1.8 billion from a year earlier. The company reported growth in virtually every category of business, including its personal computer group that is based in RTP and is being sold to a Chinese firm.

“IBM delivered a powerful fourth quarter, reflecting the strength of our integrated business model. It was IBM’s strongest fourth quarter ever, with earnings exceeding $3 billion for the first time,” said Samuel Palmisano, IBM’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement.

“Our balance sheet remains strong with superior cash flow, and we took share in key markets,” he added. “We also returned $8.3 billion to our shareholders through dividends and stock buyback during 2004, the most we have done in our history. The strategic actions that IBM took last year have increased our focus on delivering high value to enterprises. IBM is well positioned to continue our mission of bringing together the best insight, expertise and technologies to help our clients transform their businesses.”

For details of the earnings report, see: www.ibm.com/investor/4q04/4q04earnings.phtml