Dell, Hewlett-Packard Continue Slow Death March to Irrelevence

by Jeff Reeves | August 21, 2012 5:06 pm

Dell, Hewlett-Packard Continue Slow Death March to Irrelevence

You can’t cut your way to growth. But it sure as heck seems like Dell (NASDAQ:DELL[1]) is prepared to die trying.

Dell surprised nobody with an ugly earnings report[2] on Tuesday after the bell. Yes, earnings beat forecasts, but its quarterly sales fell short on an 8% year-over-year slide. That seems to be the order of the day on Wall Street with earnings at a host of companies struggling to move higher against a tide of slumping revenue[3].

But of particular note was that Dell’s full-year outlook fell short of Wall Street’s expectations, and the company is on track for its worst fiscal year of sales since 2010.

So is there any good news for Dell investors?

Well, the tech giant plans to slash more than $2 billion in costs over the next three years, primarily from the supply chain and sales group.

That, and serial acquisitions that make it seem nothing short of desperate to figure out a post-PC strategy. Dell has acquired eight companies in the past 12 months, including a big $2.4 billion bid[4] for Quest Software (NASDAQ:QSFT[5]) along with smaller shops Wyse Technology and SonicWall.

But none of the moves have been able to stop the bleeding on the earnings and sales front, and none of them have inspired investors. Dell stock will open Wednesday down about 18% year-to-date in 2012 and down about 35% from its spring peak. The stock also is down more than 50% from pre-financial crisis valuations.

Sound familiar? An aging computer giant that can’t hack it in the 21st century? A long-term strategy that consists of a bunch of acquisitions and cost-cutting to distract investors, but little real chance in direction?

I’m thinking Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ[6]) here. It’s almost twice the size of Dell but very much in the same boat. And as I wrote in May after HPQ posted horrible earnings that sent it to 2005 levels, the turnaround plan of Meg Whitman & Co. is doomed to fail[7] just like the past few years of antics yielded zero results.

Can’t wait to see HP’s numbers when they report Wednesday … but hey, at least Dell has had some stability in the corner office.

The bottom line is that the post-PC age is here, and Dell and HP have failed to adapt. As I wrote recently in my take on Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL[8]), even the leader in mobile is not immune to these growing pains, as iPad sales are cannibalizing Mac sales[9]. Chipmakers like Intel (NASDAQ:INTC[10]) also have been under pressure from the shift to mobile devices and have had to adjust strategy and expectations as a result.

But the sad reality is that while a company like Apple that has spearheaded the mobile revolution is insulated, and a company like Intel that can shift its focus in chip production has a logical path to pursue, there’s no way out for HP or Dell.

It’s like Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS[11]) admitting that there’s a shift to electronic publishing and e-commerce of book sales — that doesn’t fix the problem. Yes, B&N has the Nook. Yes, the company is ramping up its e-commerce capabilities. But B&N still is posting loss after loss, playing catch-up in a game it will never win.

It’s like Blockbuster, which tried to fend off Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX[12]) but couldn’t undo its brick-and-mortar model fast enough.

This happens frequently in business — so-called “creative destruction,” where an innovative technology or a shift in consumer needs reshapes the demand equation.

Unfortunately, companies like Apple are benefiting from the “creation” side of this. As earnings showed once again Tuesday, Dell is taking a big dose of “destruction” from the mobile movement.

I fully expect HP earnings to reflect the same ugly story.

Jeff Reeves is the editor of InvestorPlace.com and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.”[13] Write him at editor@investorplace.com or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he held a long position in Apple but no other positions in the stocks named here.

Endnotes:
  1. DELL: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=DELL
  2. an ugly earnings report: http://www.cnbc.com/id/48724054
  3. struggling to move higher against a tide of slumping revenue: http://investorplace.com/2012/08/get-ready-the-earnings-floor-is-set-to-fall/
  4. $2.4 billion bid: http://investorplace.com/2012/07/dell-to-buy-quest-software-for-2-4-billion/
  5. QSFT: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=QSFT
  6. HPQ: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=HPQ
  7. the turnaround plan of Meg Whitman & Co. is doomed to fail: http://investorplace.com/2012/05/hewlett-packard-hpq-latest-turnaround-doomed-to-fail/
  8. AAPL: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=AAPL
  9. as iPad sales are cannibalizing Mac sales: http://investorplace.com/2012/08/the-bearish-case-for-apple/
  10. INTC: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=INTC
  11. BKS: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=BKS
  12. NFLX: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=NFLX
  13. “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.”: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007KB9CSI/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

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