Hewlett-Packard Tag

Crony Capitalism and the Oracle of Omaha

in Process

I am back from the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, and my brain is still spinning from the dozens of meetings and stimulating conversations. In a series of articles over the next few weeks, I’ll try to download the thoughts that were triggered by this trip, a lot of them unrelated to the main event — the Warren Buffett & Charlie Munger show — but rather by-products of the conversations I had. After I wrote about my disappointment with Buffett’s mishandling of Coca-Cola Co.’s “excessive” compensation plan, I got an e-mail from Carol Loomis asking me if I wanted to ask Mr. Buffett a question about Cokegate. Loomis is the Berkshire Hathaway CEO’s longtime friend, editor of his annual shareholder letter and one of three reporters at the annual meeting who ask Warren and Charlie questions submitted by readers. Here is the question I submitted: I’ve been coming to shareholder meetings for seven years, and for the first time I’m seeing two Warren Buffetts: The first is the moral compass of corporate America — the standard of corporate ethics and integrity (the one we see in the Salomon Brothers scandal intro video year after year). And then last week a second Warren...

How HP Can Navigate the Information Superhighway

in Analysis

When Hewlett-Packard Co. is discussed in the media, it is portrayed as a PC company. On the surface, that makes sense: HP is the largest PC maker in the world, and personal computers are 30 percent of its revenue. But — and this is a very important but — PCs today represent only 10 percent of HP’s operating profits. Also, despite current conventional wisdom, PCs, unlike IBM Corp.’s mainframes in 1993, are not going away. A few years ago, when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was asked about his vision for the tablets and PCs of the future, he said they reminded him of cars and trucks: We need both, but there are more cars on the road than trucks. Steve was right, but success or failure will come down to how big the total market for personal devices (irrespective of form factor) will be and what the mix between PCs/notebooks and tablets will be. The tablet is a terrific tool for consuming information — reading e-mail, watching movies, communicating on Skype, playing games — but its form factor limits it as an effective productivity device. Large screens, a mouse, high computing power, multitasking and multiple windows open at once are the features for which we’ll still need PCs. Tablets...

No Kodak Moment for Hewlett-Packard

in Analysis

Investment mistakes usually fall into one of three categories: analysis, behavior or bad luck. In October 2011, after the shares of Hewlett-Packard Co. had been halved from about $48 earlier that year, I made a case for the stock. That was a mistake. There was no bad luck. I made several errors in my analysis. In this column I want to drill down into my mistakes and provide a new analysis of what is still an attractive investment. In 2011 I got three things wrong about HP: printers, services and culture. To better understand the company, it’s helpful to use an analytical framework based on two companies in different time periods: computer maker IBM Corp.circa 1993 and film giant Eastman Kodak Co. since 2006. Kodak was responsible for pioneering work in digital photography as early as the 1970s. In the ’90s, when digital photography was introduced commercially, Kodak’s 35mm film sales at first continued to grow, as digital cameras were an expensive novelty. But as digital cameras got better and cheaper, and thus more popular, sales of 35mm film started to decline. If you were a value investor analyzing Kodak, the stock would have appeared cheap on past earnings. And if you assumed that Kodak’s cash flows would gradually decline years into...

Why Hewlett-Packard Is Today’s Most Hated Stock

in Analysis

There is a good reason John Lennon wrote “All you need is love.” We want to be loved and usually gravitate toward people and things that others cherish. But when it comes to investing, love is not cheap. The trick is to identify misplaced (or mispriced) hate that will turn into love. This brings us to the most-hated stock today: Hewlett-Packard Co. It all started with the August earnings call, during which HP’s then-CEO, Léo Apotheker, unveiled a new vision: HP would transition into a software company. At first, Wall Street and yours truly were in disbelief; we thought we had simply misunderstood Léo’s soft German accent. But when on the same call HP announced a possible spin-off of its PC business and the acquisition of U.K.-based software company Autonomy Corp., for which HP will dish out more than $10 billion, valuing it at 40 times earnings, Wall Street realized the CEO was serious, and HP’s stock dropped like a rock. Hey, everyone loves software — it’s not capital-intensive, and there are high margins and a high return on capital. The problem is that HP is not a software company. More than $100 billion of its sales come from hardware: printers, servers,...

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