Tech giants make misguided maneuvers

Instead of waging bidding wars and offering buybacks, top-tier technology companies should do something better with their cash -- like raise their dividends.

By Jim Cramer Aug 31, 2010 8:53AM

jim cramerBy Jim Cramer, TheStreet

 

Don't these tech companies today make you feel like a chump?

 

How many times did former CEO Mark Hurd tell you that Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) had the soup-to-nuts offerings necessary to own the whole information technology chain? I know Dell (DELL) said it, too, but I never believed that company, hence my initial reaction to the 3Par (PAR) bid. Now the whole shebang shows the farcical nature of the assurances we have received about HP and Dell and their "multiyear" growth rates.

 

I am not reassured, by the way, by the $10 billion repurchase that HP announced. We all know now that share buybacks have largely been failures -- particularly in tech -- when it comes to keeping stock prices higher. Only dividends have worked.

 

And both HP and Dell, in my opinion, work lower, not higher, in large part because of this ridiculous, embarrassing bidding war. Can't they do something better with their cash?

 

Intel (INTC) is closer to home. I always felt that processor margins would peak one day -- as they have with each iteration, right back to the old 286 days -- but I also always believed that personal communication services were so ingrained in the chain that it would never be a purely cyclical -- or, worse, a secularly declining -- business. I know Intel had a lot going for it besides microprocessors, hence why we liked it for Action Alerts PLUS. We particularly liked the server line of processors in an era when cloud materials have to be stored somewhere!

But suddenly we discover that Intel needs to dominate wireless with security -- i.e., McAfee (MFE) -- and chips -- i.e., Infineon (IFX). The issue here is that we have all been taught that these are two distinctly second-rate companies, while Intel is a first-rate company, and a first-rate company shouldn't need to buy a second-rate company to get anything.


I am reading lots of articles about the various reasons price-to-earnings multiples are shrinking (politics, no growth, etc.). But if you want to kill your P/E multiple, simply buy second-rate companies.

 

Intel, again, should have just raised its dividend. It could by now be among the top four in the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU), and not just because it had fallen so much. Suffice it to say, we think it is too cheap to sell. But still, it's plenty painful.

 

It's funny. Salesforce.com (CRM) made acquisitions, and in the next quarter we saw that not only were the purchases additive, but they accelerated growth. The online companies acquire businesses you have never heard of all the time. They pay huge amounts, and because they are growth companies, we just give them the benefit of the doubt that the deals will work out.

 

But as for old-line tech? Let's just say you can't fool all of the people all of the time any longer.

 

At the time of publication, Cramer was long Intel.

 

Jim Cramer is co-founder and chairman of TheStreet. He contributes daily market commentary for TheStreet's sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO.

 

P.S. Click here to learn how to follow Jim Cramer’s trades for his Charitable Trust.

 

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