Is Hewlett-Packard stock a bargain or a landmine?

A longtime critic of the PC maker wonders if the time (and price) is right for a buy.

By InvestorPlace Jan 15, 2013 3:46PM
Businesswomen looking at laptops copyright LWA, Larry Williams, Blend Images, Getty ImagesBy Jeff Reeves

iplogoI make my share of bonehead calls, but one stock I have gotten right almost every step of the way in the last few years is Hewlett-Packard (HPQ).


In 2011, I wrote on InvestorPlace that it embodied the worst of corporate America, and in the nearly two years since then, I have panned the stock all the way down --including after its ugly earnings in the summer and, most recently, after a painful analyst meeting in October.  


But lately, I've started to wonder … would it be crazy to buy into HP stock, or would it actually be a risky but potentially profitable trade? Im starting to lean toward the latter.


Sure, the stock is off 70% from its 2010 peak. But it's also up about 50% from a low of about $11 right before Thanksgiving, and boasts a 3.2% yield even after this run-up.


Consider full-year 2014 forecasts of $3.46 in earnings per share (EPS), according to Standard & Poor's. That's a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of less than 5! In other words, the EPS forecast could be slashed in half and Hewlett-Packard still would have a single-digit P/E ratio.


Yes, it has been gutted by fears of a post PC-age obliterating the desktop and laptop market. However, All Things D has a great post hearkening back to a Steve Jobs quote about how tablets are cars and PCs are trucks.


The gist is that tablets will never fully replace PCs -- just as a rise of soccer moms and suburban commutes fueled car growth but never fully killed the pick-up. Consider how much money Ford (F) still makes on its F-Series, even if most people these days are buying sedans and compacts. You can see how HP still could manage to carve out a profitable piece of the tech landscape.


And, of course, there's always the longshot hopes of a turnaround actually working out for the best. It happened at Apple (AAPL) and IBM (IBM), right? And while there are many more tales of failure than success, it's worth noting that it's not impossible. HP has the cash to make it work, the reach with current supplier relationships and a brand that still carries a limited amount of cache to attract talent.


Oh yeah, and it also has the PC biz it can still spin off, according to the Wall Street Journal.


A lot can go wrong, obviously, as I pointed out in my InvestorPlace criticism of HP's poor analyst presentation a few months ago. Consider that by its own schedule, HP won't be in "recovery and expansion" mode until 2014. Consider the overhang of the Autonomy buyout -- an $11 billion deal that has recently resulted in a Justice Department investigation of accounting irregularities and a huge writedown.


There are also serious concerns about whether HP's plan to move into the crowded enterprise space, where companies like Cisco (CSCO) and  Oracle (ORCL) are well-established … and even these giants have to be on their guard from smaller, agile upstarts like Red Hat (RHT). HP might not have the right culture or personnel to pull this off, even if its strategy isn't that bad.


But the time to buy a value play is when nobody else wants it -- and despite the negativity, HP still is profitable, is much larger than rival Dell (DELL) and boasts a nice $11 billion cash cushion to weather the rough months (or years) ahead.


I'm not sure that a short-term swing trade would be wise considering the big run to end 2012. But if you're interested in a long-term speculative play, maybe HP could fit into an aggressive corner of your portfolio.


I'm not putting any of my own money in it just yet, but I'm certainly watching it closely, now that it is showing signs of stability after a spectacular crash-and-burn.


Related reading

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks. Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he held a position in Apple but none of the other stocks named here.


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6Comments
Jan 17, 2013 2:52PM
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HP is a good buy! with signs of turn around ....go for it.

it could be breaching $25 in another 3 months

Jan 16, 2013 12:21AM
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If you bought HP before it collapsed  to below $13 you already stepped on two and lost both legs.
Jan 15, 2013 7:52PM
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It was a bargain at $12-13 and I bought many shares but after it went above $16 I've sold 60% of shares. I'd buy more if it went back to $13-14 but will wait until debt ceiling fix is in or HP's earnings are known. Don't want to be in very deep if they report another sucky quarter.
Jan 15, 2013 9:32PM
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Well guess it's nice to go for only the high flyers, but most don't pay shidt..

And their appreciative run might be ripe for some falter...

And a much better price..? imo

Jan 15, 2013 8:22PM
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Stay away, you don`t want to be there.Pick visa or mastercard or Berkshire Hathaway.
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