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Meg Lowers HP Expectations

“We cannot depend on acquisitions,” Whitman said

HP Monday reported a better-than-expected $1.17 a share excluding items, down 12% year-over year, on $32.3 billion in non-GAAP revenues, up 1%, in its closely watched fiscal fourth quarter ended on October 31. Wall Street only expected to see $1.13 on $32.05 billion. HP’s own guidance was for $1.12-$1.16 on revenues of $32.1 billion-$32.5 billion.

On a more realistic GAAP basis, the numbers were uglier. Revenue was down 3% year-over-year to $32.1 billion and diluted EPS was all of 12 cents, down 89% from $1.10 year-over-year.

Looking ahead the company said it thought it could muster a modest adjusted 83 cents-86 cents a share this quarter (61 cents-64 cents in real life) against Wall Street projections of $1.11 and $4 excluding items for all of fiscal 2012 against analyst expectations of $4.54.

The company’s not projecting revenues for either the current quarter or for all of fiscal 2012 claiming EPS is a “better indicator of successful execution across its various business levers.” It’s supposed to be a way to focus on cash flow and profitable growth rather than revenue for revenue’s sake.

It is assumed that HP is setting the bar low enough it can hit the target or, God willing, exceed it and avoid the repeated depreciation of its own guidance that marked the three quarters that CEO Leo Apotheker was there before he was ousted. Q4’s results belong partly to Apotheker and partially to his September 22 replacement Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay.

In a statement, Whitman said, “We need to get back to the business fundamentals in fiscal 2012, including making prudent investments in the business and driving more consistent execution.”

Later she said the company needs to “reduce the drama” and “get out of the news cycle.” Tripping over its own feet is responsible for a third of its problems, she said.

Having paid well over $10 billion for Autonomy HP doesn’t have that much left in the kitty to spend on new acquisitions. HP salespeople won’t be selling Autonomy until next year but Autonomy is reportedly getting high- quality leads from HP.

HP currently has $8.1 billion in cash and more debt than it would like.

Whitman said on the conference call to expect a decline in revenue and profit in 2012 and no large M&A. Maybe it might do some software acquisitions of $500 million or at most $1 billion. It will have to rebuild its balance sheet, she said, and invest organically, including bolstering its sales force and speeding deliveries.

“We cannot depend on acquisitions,” Whitman said. R&D has to be rebuilt after cutting muscle, something that will take until 2014-15.

CFO Cathie Lesjak said the company is “remaining cautious heading into fiscal year 2012 but are focused on delivering our earnings outlook and driving shareholder value.” Lesjak expects margins to erode.

Whitman sees HP’s problems as the macroeconomy – it hasn’t factored in the possible “total meltdown of Europe” – China, where it needs to replace distribution deals lost when Apotheker toyed with the idea of dumping HP’s PC unit, and the Thai floods, which Whitman predicted would harry the entire industry well into next year. HP apparently bought every disk drive it could lay hands on starting last month but is still expecting shortages.

When HP posted its numbers its stock price briefly rallied after-hours then fell 2.5% below its $28.86 close, which was already down 4% after an utterly ghastly day for the markets.

HP said Q4 revenue from its benighted Personal Systems Group dropped 1.6% year-over-year with consumer revenues falling 9% and commercial up 5%. Total units were up 2% with 5% growth in desktop units and 1% growth in notebook units.

Revenues from printing, HP’s historic profit machine, dropped 10%. Commercial revenue was up 4% year-over-year with commercial printer units up 5%. Consumer printer hardware revenue was down 8% year-over- year with an 8% decline in units.

HP’s services business was up 2% year-over-year to $9.3 billion. Software jumped 28%; licenses were up 33%. The enterprise servers, storage and networking unit was down 4% to $5.7 billion although networking was up 5% and storage 4%. Lesjak blamed Oracle for problems moving Itanium servers.

The ladies warned that the company’s old-line business-critical servers, down 23% in Q4, would decline further. Industry standard server revenues were down 4%. Meg professed to have hopes for HP’s new ARM-based servers.

Financial services revenue grew 18% year-over-year driven by double-digit growth in both lease volume and portfolio assets.

BRIC revenues were up 9% despite hiccups in China.

It looks like killing Palm is going to cost close to $1.7 billion, more than the $1.2 billion HP paid for the joint last year. It’s still reportedly trying to cut a deal for webOS.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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