Investing

If CSC Can Stage a Turnaround, Can Seven Other Lingering Dead Techs? (AMD, ALU, BRCD, DELL, RIMM, SYMC, UIS)

Everyone loves a good turnaround story, particularly in down-and-out technology stocks. The problem is that many turnarounds can never turn around. Computer Sciences Corp. (NYSE: CSC) was touted over and over as a technology value stock, but its “value” was there for a reason (or a few reasons). A low-growth or no-growth company with contract troubles often offers little hope to investors.

So when you see a dog of a company like Computer Sciences rise almost 16% after earnings and challenging the $30 handle again, it might make you wonder if some other tech giants that have been down and out for years can stage a comeback as well. There is a big caveat here that investors need to pay attention to. Some turnarounds turn around because of great leadership and efforts. Others never turn back around. Making a big group bet would be in short nothing less than picking stock tickers out of a hat.

Caveats and disclosures aside, here are some reviews of what might need to occur for some of these dead tech stocks to recover. We have given color on each to offer more insight.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD) is in such bad shape that we are going to spend very little time focused on it. Our take is that it now only exists just so that Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) does not have to be broken up as a monopoly. AMD tries management changes, tries new launches and on and on. Even the Fab-lite model has not helped it out, and the latest warning was far worse than for peers. AMD seems relegated to the lower-end market and riding in the backseat of a car being driven by Intel in PCs and servers and driven by newer more nimble peers in mobile computing.

Alcatel-Lucent S.A. (NYSE: ALU) has been hit hard by European slowdown, but the reality is that this communications equipment giant has just never managed to ever get its ship turned in the right direction. Each time a turnaround begins to take shape, disappointment or coincidental problems arise. This is a company where the employees walk around with open umbrellas even inside their office. The ADRs were down another 3% on Wednesday and the 52-week range is $0.99 to $3.92. This once-great giant holds all of the Bell Labs patents, yet its market cap is only about $2.7 billion (U.S.) against what analysts expect to be some $18.3 billion in 2012 sales. The worry is that even if rival Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) went belly up, Alcatel-Lucent might get bested by others too.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: BRCD) has been stuck in the mud for longer than most investors care to remember. It is often called a poor-man’s Cisco after its Foundry Networks buyout because it has been a much more affordable switching solution. The acquisition of Foundry Networks and McDATA have not paid off for investors, and revenue growth has been slow and is expected to remain slow (about 3% for each of the next two years). What can save Brocade is that elusive Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) buyout, since the companies have had relations. This was a rumored buyout, but it never materialized. At $5.30, the 52-week trading range is $3.31 to $6.17. This stock just was never able to get back above $10.00 despite only a $2.4 billion market value today.

Dell Inc. (NASDAQ: DELL) has been down and out for quite some time. Even the return of Michael Dell has not been able to help shareholders. Much of the PC business erosion is due to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) of course, but the story here is that the PC business is really no different from selling toasters. While Dell has been trying to transform into a services business as well, it seems that the game-changing deal has not come. The good news is that Dell finally initiated a solid dividend that was attractive for an initial technology dividend. There was even talk that Michael Dell had explored taking Dell private at one point. Shares are down around $12.30 with a $21.5 billion market cap, and its 52-week range is $11.39 to $18.36. Even if Dell shares doubled it would not be back to where it was before the recession. More work needs to be done here as this year’s sales are expected to be down about 3% with only 1% sales growth expected from the January-2014 fiscal year. The same could be said about Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) minus the transformation, but it is a newer situation than Dell.

Research In Motion Limited (NASDAQ: RIMM) may or may not be fair to include on a dead turnaround list. RIM’s woes really started to pick up only front and center in the past 18 to 24 months as the popularity of the iPhone and the Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android OS have spread like wildfire to the enterprise and business users. What can save RIM? A severe flop by Apple or Google whereby millions of users suffer a catastrophic data breach or data loss, as their security is often considered to not be as robust as the BlackBerry system. RIM shares were up more than 5% on Friday after an analyst at Jefferies hinted at a partnership with Samsung perhaps saving the company. If RIM stays on the same path and goes at its future alone, let’s just say that we run a feature called “RIM Deathwatch” for a reason. With the delays around its new BlackBerry next-generation phone, it has been very difficult to get excited about any turnaround when the company is now running on operating losses.

Symantec Corp. (NASDAQ: SYMC) is a stuck-in-the-mud data security and storage software player. The good news is that it has a new CEO and the investment community has voted with confidence as shares are up 30% from its recent lows. The strategy just never really blended here, and its $12 billion market value makes the company possibly too large to acquire. After its acquisition of Veritas marked the multiyear peak, investors likely will revolt if the new strategy involves making aggressive buyouts. This stock has had a long-term trading range of just under $15 to almost $20 for most of the past seven years. Any time it dipped under $15, it was time to buy; any time $20 came close, it was time to sell. The company has no dividend and has been public more than 20 years. It would be painful, but perhaps a breakup of the last two CEO strategies would better received as two standalone companies again.

Unisys Corp. (NYSE: UIS) may have seen its stock surge after the recession, but that was a share price issue of investors buying whatever they could more than anything. Since this IT-service provider’s reverse split in late 2009, this company has lost another one-third of its market value. Its shares are down more than 60% from before the recession when its shares were above $50 on an adjusted basis now. The market cap for this is now only $870 million and it trades at only about six-times earnings. The problem is that its balance sheet is inverted with negative equity of almost $1.2 billion and net tangible assets are negative by $1.5 billion. At $19.80, the 52-week range is $13.77 to $27.43. Its outstanding 6.25% Mandatory Convertible Preferred Stock with a 6.25% coupon may be part of the issue here. Serving the government and enterprises can be rewarding, but not for Unisys as its revenue has been shrinking and is continued to shrink this year and next year.

JON C. OGG