HP: Turnaround years away
The company won't be on track until 2016, CEO Meg Whitman says.
HP (HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman laid out details of the company's turnaround plan. It will take at least another three years, she said.
Whitman, speaking at the Securities Analyst meeting in New York on Wednesday, said 2013 will be a "fix and rebuild year." And the No. 1 PC maker warned of pain for investors, delivering a weaker-than-expected outlook for fiscal 2013 stemming from a limp economy.
The former eBay (EBAY) chief, who took over from the ousted Leo Apotheker, took on a Herculean task when she walked into the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., just over a year ago.
The new CEO has set about clearing up HP's mess in a methodical fashion, quickly nixing the controversial effort to unload the firm's PC business and implementing a major restructuring plan. She has also made leadership changes.
Despite these efforts, though, HP's 5-year hangover could leave investors with a headache of their own, according to analysts.
Jayson Noland, an analyst at Robert W. Baird, lowered his HP price target from $22 to $18 on Thursday, maintaining his "neutral" rating on the company. "We continue to believe that HP is experiencing both secular and cyclical challenges and acknowledge that the precise trajectory of the recovery is difficult to predict," he wrote in a note.
During her presentation on Wednesday, Whitman broke the company's transformation down into specific years, from "diagnosis and foundation" in fiscal 2012, through to "recovery and expansion," "acceleration" and "industry-leading competition" in years 2014 through 2016.
Even if HP manages to meet its internal goals, however, there are myriad external factors that could knock the company off track. From intensifying competition from Apple (AAPL) in the PC market to challenges from Cisco (CSCO) in servers and networking, HP's vast product portfolio necessitates an aggressive war on multiple fronts.
There are also economic pressures to consider, such as the weakness in Europe and the consumer market that weighed heavily on HP's 2013 outlook. Additionally, Whitman pointed to slowing growth in China during her presentation during Wednesday's Securities Analyst meeting.
Set against this backdrop, UBS analyst Steven Milunovich also lowered his HP price target on Thursday, from $16 to $14. The analyst, who has a "sell" rating on the stock, said that more drastic action may be needed.
"We are impressed with HP's enterprise offerings, though whether it can outsell IBM (IBM), Oracle (ORCL) and EMC (EMC) in converged infrastructure remains to be seen," he wrote. "We still think structural change, such as breaking up the company, may be required. Although individual business units are becoming more focused, the overall strategy still is to be all things to all people."
HP gave no indication of such a drastic strategy change on Wednesday, and clearly prefers to face a difficult future with all of the firm's constituent parts. Whitman, however, did discuss critical plans to streamline HP's bewildering array of products, reconnect with channel partners, consolidate marketing and improve internal IT systems.
Whether this is enough, though, remains to be seen. "In our view, the turnaround strategy is still unclear," noted Jefferies analyst Peter Misek, lowering his price target from $14 to $12 on Thursday. Misek rates HP shares "underperform."
After a turbulent few years in Palo Alto, marked by a succession of CEOs, poor execution and a lack of strategic direction, investor reaction to the feeble outlook and the long-term turnaround story was understandably negative. HP shares plunged almost 13% on Wednesday, hitting a new 9-year low, and were struggling to break $15 on Friday.
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