HP 4Q Preview: More Disappointment Ahead For Top Computer Company?

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By David Zielenziger | November 20, 2012 3:58 AM EST

The latest technology bellwether to report financial results out of the usual cycle is Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), the world's biggest maker of computers and printers, which fell this year to No. 2 in PCs.

 

HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., is scheduled to report fourth-quarter and annual results for the period ended Oct. 31 before markets open on Tuesday.

 

CEO Margaret (Meg) Whitman, at the helm only 14 months as the company's third boss in three years, has already swung the ax, trimming about 14,000 people from the payroll over two years and taking a $5 billion restructuring charge to do it. She told analysts last month the company needs time to correct its course.

 

Now HP will come up against industry trends: chip sales have been mediocre and demand for PCs is falling. HP, which derives substantial revenue from Europe won't benefit from the continuing economic crisis there.

 

The company doesn't even have a tablet shipping yet, although the ElitePad unit for business is scheduled for later in the current quarter.

 

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect HP will report fourth-quarter earnings to ease to $1.14 a share from $1.17 a share a year earlier, as revenue eases 5 percent to $30.45 billion.

 

At the analyst briefing, CFO Cathie Lesjak said full-year operating earnings will be $4.05 to $4.07 a share before the charges of $6.30 a share, which will lead to a full-year loss around $2.23 to $2.25 a share.

 

A year ago, HP reported full-year net income of $7.07 billion, or $3.32 a share, on revenue of $127.2 billion. On an annual basis, full-year revenue was about $21 billion more than for rival International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), which no longer has a consumer presence.

 

Next year won't be great, either. Lesjak predicted that after all charges next year, fiscal 2013 net income will be a meager $2.10 to $2.30 a share.

 

Analysts who attended the Whitman briefing aren't bullish on her prospects.

 

Steve Milunovich of UBS, who has a “sell” rating on HP shares with a price target of $12.75, says the current structure of the company works against a turnaround. “HP must ultimately break up and in the meantime, needs to find some thought leadership,” he said.

 

With businesses focussed on high-end servers to PCs to tablets, printers, software and services, the company isn't poised to take advantage of potential, he said. Indeed, Milunvoch forecast revenue declines next year to only $115.9 billion, moving up to only $117.9 billion in fiscal 2015.

 

Other analysts are also bearish: of the 25 who follow the company, 14 rate it “hold,” which is a less-strong term than “sell,” which few analysts advise clients.

 

S&P's Angelo Zino, with a “hold” on HP, sees “growth opportunities” in cloud computing and for re-entering the tablet sector and is “cautiously optimistic” on adoption of Windows 8 by partner Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), which should trigger new demand for PCs and laptops.

 

Still, Zino said, HP's “unfavorable sales mix and competitive pricing” will create tough weather for Whitman & Co. as they try to correct HP's course.

 

Shares of HP rose 28 cents to $13.13 in midday Monday trading. They've lost 49 percent this year, 53 percent in the past 52 weeks and 44 percent since Whitman, 56, started as CEO.

 

The company's market capitalization has fallen to only $25.8 billion.

 

 

 

 

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