Shareholders of Hewlett-Packard may be forgiven for dreading the month of August. It is during that month that some of the company’s more memorable incidences of bad news have come to light.
With HP set to report third-quarter earnings on Wednesday, though, the market isn’t bracing for another round of bad news. HP is instead expecting a routine earnings report with no big surprises.
The consensus view calls for HP to report a per-share profit of 89 cents on revenue of $27 billion, and to give reassuring guidance that it will finish the fiscal year with a profit of about $3.72 on about $110 billion in sales.
August has in recent years been a cruel month at HP. For the last four years, the shares have fallen during that month by an average of 15.5 percent. Not so in 2014 — so far. HP shares have hovered quietly between $34 and $36, and are up less than one percent since Aug. 1. But the month isn’t over.
Last August, the turnaround efforts led by CEO Meg Whitman appeared to falter when she conceded to shareholders that a key plank of her turnaround campaign — a return to revenue growth in 2014 — appeared unlikely to materialize. The promised return to growth would be put off for another year.
Sales in 2013 went on to decline by nearly seven percent or more than $8 billion. And if the consensus view of analysts is correct, then HP is due for another — though much smaller — decline this year. HP’s next look ahead will occur on Oct. 8 when it holds its annual analysts meeting.
Last August also brought with it a big executive shakeup atop one of HP’s biggest business units, when Executive VP Dave Donatelli, head of the $28 billion Enterprise Group, was reassigned and later replaced by former COO Bill Veghte. After all that drama it was no wonder that HP shares ended the month of August lower by 15 percent.
The bad news of 2014 would seem to have already arrived, perhaps suggesting this August will, for once, be an uneventful one. HP said in May it would fire between 11,000 and 16,000 people by the end of the year. It was the third upward revision in job cuts related to a company-wide restructuring first announced in 2012, and boosted the upper end of the number of jobs to be eliminated to 50,000 since since Whitman became CEO. Whitman has said the cuts are necessary to bring HP’s operating costs down by $1 billion by 2016.
And sales continue to be an ongoing concern. For the first six months of the year, revenue has remained stubbornly on the decline, though at a slower rate than in prior years, falling by about a half billion dollars year on year to $55.5 billion. The one bright spot was a six percent rise in PC sales for the first half of 2014 compared to 2013, led primarily by an improvement in notebook sales. Every other business unit has shown sales declines so far this year, except for networking, where a $62 million year-on-year improvement barely moved the needle.
Previous Augusts have been filled with even worse drama. In August of 2012, HP said it would take an $8 billion impairment charge related to its acquisition of the IT services company EDS, which now forms the backbone of the long-troubled $23 billion Enterprise services unit. HP shares ended that August down by a relatively small five percent.
August of 2011 was perhaps the most ignominious of all. It was during that year’s Q3 earnings report that HP’s then-CEO Léo Apotheker combined the following into one big hot mess of bad news: Earnings that missed expectations, the expensive and ultimately disastrous $11 billion acquisition of the British software firm Autonomy, a plan ultimately abandoned to spin off the PC unit into a separate company, and the shutdown of the WebOS smart phone and tablet business unit. HP shares swooned by 26 percent, and Apotheker was out of a job within a month, replaced by Whitman.
That’s not the only case of CEO turnover at HP that has taken place during — you guessed it — August. It was in early August of 2010 that then-CEO Mark Hurd resigned following the disclosure of claims by a former marketing contractor of sexual harassment. HP shares fell by more than 16 percent that month. Hurd was cleared of wrongdoing and went on to become president at software giant Oracle. It was for HP shareholders the first of many more difficult Augusts to come.
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