Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman will deliver the latest look at her multi-year turnaround effort when the company reports quarterly earnings Thursday.
Analysts will be looking for signs that the relatively good news that HP reported in February can be sustained. For one thing, Whitman got to report revenue growth for the first time in her tenure as CEO, though only after backing out the negative effects of currency exchange rates. Still, as a mark of progress, she was happy to take it.
The consensus view of the analysts polled by Thomson Reuters calls for HP to report a profit of 88 cents a share on revenue of $27.4 billion. That would amount to an improvement of a penny a share on the bottom line, but another decline in revenue of about $200 million.
That said, HP did signal an improvement in its overall outlook last quarter, and raised its guidance on what it expects to earn this year. PC sales at long last showed signs of stabilizing after the slow-motion train wreck that business had been, and actually grew. The Enterprise business fell slightly but looked close to stabilizing. Printing fell, too, by a relatively stable two percent.
Still, the Enterprise Services business, which amounts to about 20 percent of sales, continued to be a drag on results and is probably the biggest overall problem facing the company right now. Last quarter, the unit reported a sales decline of seven percent. Analyst Brent Bracelin of Pacific Crest Securities in Portland wrote in a note to clients Tuesday that its contribution to HP’s annual profits on a per-share basis has fallen from $1 to 30 cents over two years. (HP earned $4.05 a share in 2012 and $3.56 a share in 2013.)
That troubled unit may be seeing a light at the end of what has been a long tunnel, he says, as several unprofitable IT service contracts are expiring soon. That sets the stage for HP to either let those clients go or renegotiate their contracts on more favorable terms. That could be a sign of the “fundamental bottom,” he writes.
Another thing to watch for: Hints about Whitman’s plans for an acquisition. She has been sending signals that the company is ready to start thinking seriously about buying other companies again, though likely not at the scale that her predecessor Léo Apotheker did. Remember, under Apotheker, HP acquired the British software firm Autonomy in 2011 for about $11 billion. Later, after he had been fired, HP wrote off about $8 billion of Autonomy’s value after learning of what it says were accounting problems there.
When and if HP moves to acquire something, it will be a highly scrutinized deal. But it won’t be huge. HP had only $16 billion in combined cash and short-term investments on its balance sheet last quarter and zero debt outside of what it carries for its financing activities. Whitman’s last comments to Re/code on the question of acquisitions suggested she’s interested in “small to medium” deals.
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