Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Hewlett-Packard’s PC Market Share Grows, Raising Questions About Those Spinoff Plans

Having announced to the world over the summer that it intends to get out of the PC business by spinning off its personal systems group into a separate company, you might have expected the resulting uncertainty to have hurt Hewlett-Packard’s standing in the marketplace.

Not so: The latest data from research houses Gartner and IDC shows that HP, already the biggest PC maker in the world, managed to grow its share of the market in the most recent quarter, and actually grew faster than the rest of the industry as a whole.

According to Gartner, HP’s share edged up to 17.7 percent in the third quarter from 17.4 percent in the year-ago period, and it sold 16.2 million PCs. By IDC’s reckoning, (Gartner and IDC conduct their counts a little differently) HP commanded an 18.1 percent share of the market, up from 17.8 percent a year ago, and shipped 16.6 million PCs.

The data, along with retail PC sales as tracked by the research firm NPD, is widely watched in the PC industry and, if nothing else, gives some indication as to the reasoning behind the trial balloon story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, which said that HP is rethinking its spinoff plans.

Meanwhile, Dell saw its share fall on both lists, and its position fell to third place behind China’s Lenovo, with Acer coming in fourth on a global basis. Apple maintained its third-place position in the U.S. market and grew its share to nearly 13 percent in the Gartner rankings and north of 11 percent on the IDC list.

For HP, a world-dominating market share is certainly nice to have, but meaningless if it’s not profitable — which it is. In fact, despite declining revenues — sales in HP’s personal systems group fell by about $1 billion in the first nine months of fiscal 2011, to $29.5 billion — the company managed to boost its operating margins from 4.8 percent in 2010 to 6 percent so far this year.

We know most of the reasons for the decline. Apple’s iPad has tamped down demand for conventional notebooks, and HP, having sought to create a competitive response with its TouchPad, didn’t have much luck. The impact is especially pronounced in HP’s notebook sales, which is where most of the billion-dollar drop in sales in the PC division were seen during the first nine months of the year. The results were offset, oddly enough, by a $366 million increase in sales of high-end professional workstation computers.

Still, having a big PC business gives a company like HP the leverage it needs to buy parts from suppliers for its more profitable businesses. In HP’s enterprise storage and networking group, operating margins were about 14 percent in the first nine months of the fiscal year, where sales grew by more than $2 billion.

It is easier to negotiate favorable prices from chip and memory suppliers like Intel, Advanced Micro Devices and Micron — and hard drive suppliers like Seagate and Western Digital — when you’re still the world’s biggest consumer of their products. Absent the PC division, HP’s orders from those suppliers would be smaller and incrementally more expensive, as discounts are often negotiated based on the volume of components ordered.

The enterprise business was to be HP’s future under former CEO Léo Apotheker, and there is little question that its emphasis won’t continue to be on the enterprise going forward. But as HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman, chairman Ray Lane and the rest of HP’s management team contemplate the decision to spin off PCs or not, the evidence is mounting that the two faces of HP are inextricably linked.

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— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle