When computer giant Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE:HPQ) reports first-quarter results on Thursday, investors already know it will report declines in earnings and revenue. The question will be whether CEO Meg Whitman has stopped the bleeding yet.
Now 17 months into her post in Palo Alto, Calif., Whitman last year took charges of nearly $17 billion to write off the acquisitions of Electronic Data Systems and Autonomy, as well as restructuring charges for firing as many as 27,000 employees through mid-2014.
In October, Whitman and CFO Cathie Lesjak said they hoped the restructuring, plus a new focus on selling software and services, something copied from the playbook of International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), would bring HP’s earnings back over time.
They also said new synergies between HP’s PC and its printers division, the world leader in both segments, should make the now-merged division profitable again. But analysts at Gartner (NYSE:IT) reported 2012 PC sales slipped 3.5 percent to only 352 million units as the industry continued shifting to tablets and smartphones from laptops.
Gartner said HP narrowly edged China’s Lenovo Group (PINK:LNVGY) to claim the No. 1 crown for the year, selling 56.5 million PCs, down 6.7 percent from 2011. Meanwhile, Lenovo sold nearly 52.2 million units, up 14 percent.
Meanwhile, shares of HP, with dividends, have fallen 41 percent over the past year. In Wednesday trading, they fell 19 cents to $16.70, valuing the company at only $32.6 billion, compared with $225.2 billion for IBM.
Analysts expect HP to report first-quarter net income declined 24 percent to $1.39 billion, or 71 cents a share, from $1.83 billion, or 92 cents a year ago. Revenue for the quarter ended Jan. 31 is expected to drop 7.5 percent to $27.76 billion.
“HP is especially fragile,” said Steven Milunovich, analyst with UBS. It’s too big, has too few synergies among its parts and remains too exposed to declining sectors such as PCs and printers to maintain its stature, he said.
Milunovich has argued since Whitman’s October session with analysts that the company would be better broken up than kept together.
HP “has a lot of deep-rooted problems,” said Eric Maronak of Victory Capital Management, which owns HP shares. “A lot of it is self-inflicted.”
On the other hand, parts of the turnaround have begun, if slowly.
Last month, HP re-entered the tablet sector, where its TouchPad bombed in 2011, with the ElitePad and HP Envy x2 models intended for professional users. It launched some new platforms to support “Big Data,” whose applications can be crunched on HP servers.
Still, “Expectations for a recovery in most of HP’s core end-markets remain bleak and at best several years away,” said Angelo Zino, analyst with Standard & Poor’s.
While there’s great value in the computer giant’s businesses, “The company needs to prove it is on the right track after a series of management missteps,” Zino added.
HP’s results will follow the lower fourth-quarter results from Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL), now the No. 3 PC maker, whose management is attempting to go private in a $24.4 billion leveraged buyout managed by Silver Lake Partners, the second-largest buyout in technology history. Dell reported net income fell 31 percent to $530 million, or 30 cents a share.
CEO Michael Dell has argued the company needs time to make a transition to higher-end sales and services under private ownership.
HP, though, under Whitman, who honed her skills and made her fortune as CEO of eBay Inc. (NASDAQ:EBAY) before her vastly expensive and losing campaign to become governor of California in 2010, is relying on the public market for its recovery.
Items to watch in the first-quarter report will be cash flow, announcements of any further writeoffs or divestitures and any forecast for 2013 earnings.
The company may also discuss the criminal probe into the 2011 acquisition of multimedia company Autonomy, in which it accused former executives and accountants of fraud and referred the matter to the FBI.
In the fourth quarter, HP’s cash flow was $4.1 billion and HP reported solid gains in software, where revenue rose 14 percent. Unfortunately, software revenue was only $1.17 billion out of total revenue of $29.95 billion, an indicator of how tough the recovery may be.
HP reported a fourth-quarter loss of $6.85 billion, or $3.49 a share, compared with prior-year net income of $239 million, or 12 cents a share.