RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — IBM (NYSE: IBM) discloses fourth-quarter earnings after the markets close today, and many Big Blue workers, as well as several analysts, expect the world’s largest technology firm to announce big layoffs as well.

One e-mailer to The Skinny simply noted: “Here it comes.”

“IBM is famous for its aggressive cost-cutting, and some analysts believe big job cuts could be coming,” The Associated Press wrote in its IBM earnings preview. “IBM has declined to comment on any possible layoffs.”

Alliance@IBM, the fledgling union seeking to represent IBM workers, has been predicting a 4 percent layoff, or 16,000 jobs. (IBM’s largest campus of some 11,000 people is right here in the Triangle, don’t forget.) The union on Monday called for Big Blue management to take other cost-cutting steps, such as reducing executive-suite perks and pay, rather than cutting more jobs. Don’t expect IBM to heed the call.

Not everyone is in panic mode about IBM. Forrester’s Andrew Bartels sees Big Blue as tech’s old reliable and doesn’t expect sweeping changes.

"They don’t grow as much on the upswing, and they don’t shrink as much on the downswing," he told Forbes.

Toni Sacconaghi at Bernstein Research shared a similar view with Dow Jones, calling IBM a “solid defensive name.”

Analysts expect IBM to report earnings of more than $3 a share on revenues topping $28 billion. That’s hardly bad news, given the fact the fourth quarter is when the recession exploded across Wall Street and the world.

However, Richard Gardner at Citi forecast “aggressive” cost-cutting, with layoffs between 3 and 5 percent, the AP said.

IBM’s revenue forecast is likely to draw more attention from investors than cutbacks do, however. If the tech sector swoon is as bad as some analysts are saying, with IT spending flat or declining through 2009, then watch out. IBM is such a bellwether for the tech sector that a grim forecast could pull down IBM and a lot of other shares.

"Frankly, we think the results are going to be poor," Keith Bachman, an analyst with BMO Capital Markets told Forbes. He believes IBM will miss projections.

"IBM had a tough quarter, like the rest of the tech industry," he warned.