Chasing Value: HP renovation or tear down?
Having lost its way, the fabled technology company tried to buy innovation with disastrous results.
By Sheldon Liber
Hewlett Packard (HPQ) has once again been the bearer of bad news with its recent announcement of an $8.8 billion charge and an allegation of fraud in connection with its acquisition of British software company Autonomy. HP has been clueless, or perhaps rudderless, for the past four years, shedding dollars, executives and good will. Even with an illustrious board of directors -- "big names" like Marg Whitman, Marc Andreessen, Raj Gupta and Raymond Lane -- the losses keep piling up.
On the brink of ruin, Apple (AAPL) brought back Steve Jobs, its founder and a natural-born innovator, and that's what he did -- innovate. He did it like few before him, and as yet, no one after him. Jobs was a rock star, insightful and in tune with technology and popular culture. Unfortunately Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard are not around today. Trying to buy innovation is a risky game. HP paid big and, by its own admission, has nothing to show for it.
HP is missing something critical -- the insight and passion to innovate. In the absence of innovation it’s trying to migrate to a different business model. Does this mean expanding into software to compete against Oracle (ORCL) or into services to compete against IBM? HP needs outside intervention and perhaps it needs to be broken up. There are rumors about Carl Icahn that stimulate the imagination. It was Icahn who bought into Motorola and pushed to break it into two, resulting in the sale of Motorola Moblity to Google (GOOG).
HP closed Tuesday at $14.26 -- a long way from its 52-week high of $30. It is not worth considering metrics like price-to-earnings, price-to-sales and price-to-book when the figure jumping off the page is the 41% drop in return-on-equity. With over $11 billion of cash on the balance sheet HP does have a little time to set things right, especially if Icahn is in the picture. On the other hand, this will only benefit new shareholders speculating at current stock pricing, not older shareholders that have been crushed.
Sheldon D. Liber is the CEO/CIO of Chasing Value Asset Management, Inc., financial author, and private investor. You can follow him on Twitter: @chasingvalue
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