Hewlett-Packard is famous for its acquisition binge, an apparently endless shopping spree by which it has acquired innumerable companies, from small outfits to the misbegotten $11-billion Autonomy deal. Misbegotten because HP later claimed that it had been misbegotten, which allowed it to blame the prior CEO and write off $8.8 billion as “non-cash” that analysts would be tasked to just ignore.
This sort of acquisition accounting is widely used to expunge expenses and costs paid for with cash or stock from the “adjusted earnings” and “adjusted” EPS that everyone is supposed to look at.
HP is also famous for the waves of layoffs that came with these acquisitions. In May, it announced that it would axe up to 16,000 workers, just after having finished the tedious job of booting 34,000 workers out the door. These layoffs followed prior waves of layoffs, dating back many years, including the waves the Compaq acquisition had triggered. And each layoff announcement is carefully designed and timed to goose the stock price. HP still has over 317,000 workers globally, so it won’t run out of people to fire anytime soon, and more such stock-price boosts can be expected.
And HP is famous for having produced declining revenues for 11 quarters in a row. Despite the acquisitions!
But suddenly, today, something happened. Namely a miracle. Or so HP wanted us to believe when it reported that third quarter revenues inched up 1.3% from a year ago.
OK, that’s below the rate of inflation, but hey, this is HP.
And it had done so because sales of PCs, which had been reported as dead previously, emerged from their graves and rose 12%. They didn’t do this to do HP a favor. Microsoft had stopped supporting Windows XP this spring, and stopped issuing security patches, and all the millions of XP machines still out there became sitting ducks and had to be dealt with. Hence a surge in PC sales. But industry gurus consider the days of this shotgun upgrade-cycle numbered.
So net profit plunged nearly 30% from a year ago. But no problem.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” said CEO Meg Whitman, who has been CEO since September 2011, in a press release. Finally, after all these layoffs, she has something to brag about: a year-over-year quarterly revenue increase of 1.3% and a profit plunge of 29%.
“When I look at the way the business is performing, the pipeline of innovation and the daily feedback that I receive from our customers and partners, my confidence in the turnaround grows stronger,” she told all those doubting Thomases out there.
“The third quarter of 2013 was an important milestone,” Whitman added in an interview. “We’re excited about that.”
And then she already backed off. “Turnarounds aren’t linear,” she explained. The “turnaround,” if you can call it that, in fact might turn around on her again. The PC sector is tough.
Tech used to mean “growth.” It used to be the shining example of what America could accomplish when it pooled its money, ingenuity, and leadership. Now, tech mastodons like HP, Microsoft, Dell, Cisco, and others excel in financial engineering, serial acquisitions, and mass layoffs. In return, they produce mediocre revenue growth at best, often no growth, or even actual declines. That’s what happens when financial engineers take over and real engineers get summarily kicked out the back door.
These tech companies have been swallowing anything that isn’t nailed down. But layoffs have started soaring. And it’s getting worse. Read…. What The Heck Is Wrong with Big Tech?
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