Wall St. must see something in Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) that has been missing for years. HP shares have risen 30% over the past three months, despite a string of bad news that goes back more than a year. Either the stock has recovered because it dropped 65% over the past few years, and some investors believe it only needs a bit of good news to move higher, or smart money thinks a real turnaround is underway. The second of these is the more likely.
Probably, the worst news about HP is all out: The botched buyout of Autonomy and the write-off that accompanied it. CEO Meg Whitman’s comments that a turnaround could take several years. The cycle of arguments about whether HP should spin out its PC business. Each of these has helped push HP’s stock lower.
Whitman already has laid the foundation of better margins through the planned elimination of 29,000 jobs. HP also has said it will cut some of the Autonomy workforce, as it has become clear that the operation was not as promising as first supposed. HP has also admitted that the former EDS IT consulting operations have been less successful than was anticipated when HP bought it. EDS was supposed to help HP into the enterprise part of the hardware and software industry, which is a spot occupied by the wildly successful International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM).
At least three things have helped the HP share price. The first is that Wall St. finally has witnessed management taking some level of risk to improve its prospects. It will release a personal computer based on Google Inc.’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android operating system. That allows it to diversify away from Microsoft Corp.’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Windows 8, which has a problem with rapid adoption. And HP has added some new executives with strong backgrounds in the tablet sector. The company has not given up on PCs. If anything, management believes that the slowing shrinking industry continues to have profit promise.
HP does have large enterprise businesses, and recent earnings results from IBM and Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) suggest that it is a part of the tech industry that is booming. In particular, HP’s software operations grew last year and had a margin of more than 20%. HP’s financial services business also thrived in the period. Neither signals a complete recovery of HP across all of its segments, but at least the progress makes a start.
Finally, the Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) buyout indicates that some private equity firms still believe in the PC industry and Dell’s modest portfolio of enterprise operations. Michael Dell and his investors have offered a premium to buy out the public corporation, and may still have to raise that price to make the transaction work.
HP may have been left for dead, but a 30% surge in its share says otherwise.
Douglas A. McIntyre