Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

In PC Numbers, HP Investors See a Light at the End of the Tunnel

It’s been awhile since Hewlett-Packard investors have had much to cheer about, but when they got some good news, they took it in spades.

HP shares surged by more than 7 percent, or $1.69, today to $25.10, mainly on a positive report on the state of its personal computer business from the market research firms Gartner and IDC.

As I noted yesterday, HP saw its share of the global market grow fractionally, according to the reckoning of Gartner, at the expense of Dell, Acer and Asus, while China-based rival Lenovo grew even more. IDC saw similar results, and both research houses were surprised to see the overall market grow in the first quarter of the year where a market decline had been expected.

That was enough to give HP shares a long-awaited jolt. So far in 2012, HP shares have fallen a little less than 3 percent, but that comes on top of the ridiculous 40 percent drop they suffered during 2011.

Much of that decline was suffered on Aug. 19, 2011, a day after the company, under then-CEO Léo Apotheker, missed its quarterly forecasts, spent $12 billion to acquire the British software firm Autonomy and floated an ill-advised plan to spin off the very PC operations that gave investors a rare moment to cheer. Looking back now, it does make for some irony, no?

To be sure, HP’s share price has had a better than average week. On days when the Dow was mostly in the red, HP has been one of the few stocks on the board showing green all week.

And frankly an uptick in the PC business, while welcome indeed, isn’t exactly going to fix HP in any fundamental way. At least not yet. PC sales were 31 percent of overall sales in 2011, and declined slightly over the prior year. And while that made HP’s Personal Systems Group the biggest business unit at HP last year — and now combined with printers it’s even bigger — profits both in PCs and in printers are seriously under attack.

The hope lies in the enterprise and in services, and maybe in the cloud. Profit margins in the enterprise business and in the services group were roughly twice what they were in PCs. HP also made a big announcement on the cloud computing front earlier this week that would seem to put it on course to compete with the likes of Amazon in providing computing capacity in a similar for-hire fashion as the Web retailer does with its Web Services unit.

It’s hard to know how profitable that business is for Amazon because it doesn’t disclose its operational size and profit margins and lumps that operation into its $1.4 billion category labeled “other.” However it’s worth noting — as HP surely has — that Amazon’s “other” category grew by 73 percent in 2011 and nearly tripled in size from 2009. There may be a real light at the end of that tunnel yet, but there’s lot’s of work to do.


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