Has it been only one year since Meg Whitman took the reins at HP? The latest in a daisy chain of top executives, Whitman was charged with turning the company around after years of stagnation. More and more, her efforts look like someone tirelessly bailing water out of a leaky boat. Only the ship keeps taking more water.
HP's stock price is down 29% this year while the Nasdaq has rallied 21% and its rivals IBM and Oracle are up 12% and 27%, respectively. The company's decline has persisted as earnings report after earnings report showed that turning things around would be much harder than most investors – and perhaps Ms. Whitman - expected.
The challenges facing HP are in several areas. The IT services that the company has been looking to for high growth is suffering through a hard year thanks to the weak economy in Europe. As we've noted, the printer business is slowing dramatically as people store photos on their smartphones. And revenue at its PC business – an albatross around the company's neck since it bought Compaq – is plummeting 9% a year, while operating earnings in the division are down 21%.
On top of that, HP had to take a $8 billion writedown related to its $13.9 billion acquisition of EDS. The financial charge caused HP to swing to a net loss of $8.8 billion from a profit of $2.5 billion a year earlier. Meanwhile, HP was having mixed results integrating another big acquisition - the $11.7 bllion paid for UK software firm Autonomy a year ago – into its operations.
Since then, the bad news has only continued. One Wall Street analyst said he was bracing for the worst July-December period in the history of the PC industry, thanks to confusion over the release of Windows 8. HP had been looking for a boost to its high-end desktop PCs with the Spectre One, but initial raves by some gadget blogs were derailed by charges that the Spectre One copied the look of Apple's iMacs.
More serious for HP's future was news that GM will hire 10,000 IT workers in an effort to bring its operations in-house. GM, a longtime client of EDS, had signed with HP a $600 million-a-year contract that now seems in jeopardy. On Monday, HP noted in a filing to the SEC it would cut 2,000 more jobs than the 27,000 it announced in May.
Investors bearish on HP have long charged that the company masked slow growth with a series of high-profile and high-priced acquisitions starting with Compaq in 2001 and through Autonomy last year. Whitman's effort to turn around HP has been complicated by a decade of M&A deals that saddled the company with a declining business (Compaq), a huge writedown (EDS) and a clumsy integration process (Autonomy).
Once she works through those problems, Whitman may have a IT giant capable of competing with Oracle, IBM and others for large corporate contracts. HP's turnaround would have been tough under the best of circumstances. But with so many big competitors in a sluggish global economy, HP's rotten week is a stark reminder that it's swimming against the tide.
HP's stock traded at $22 a share in June, but last month fell to $16 a share – its lowest level in 8 years. News of the layoffs has lifted its stock since that low, but HP's market value of $36 billion is still a fraction of Oracle's $160 billion and IBM's $235 billion. Turning around tech giants can take years. At this rate, HP won't have that long.