by James Brumley | March 21, 2014 10:35 am
At this time last year, many investors figured Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) was a lost cause. Though the value of HPQ stock grew a bit in early 2013, it was tough to think that the rally was anything more than just a little volatility. After all, HP had just booted its CEO after a year at the helm, and that bounced followed a three-year, 79% implosion for HPQ stock.
Well, as it turns out, the upside wasn’t just a little volatility. HPQ stock is up a solid 36% over the past twelve months, having hit a new 52-week high this past week.
It looks like HPQ finally found a CEO was the right person for the job. While revenue hasn’t technically grown under CEO Meg Whitman’s leadership, it’s no longer deteriorating. Ditto for earnings. And, while revenue for HPQ stock is projected to be essentially flat this fiscal year as well as in fiscal 2015, analysts expect per-share profits to ramp up again, to the tune of 4.2% this fiscal year, and 3.5% next year.
It may not be red–hot growth, but HPQ stock owners have more to look forward to now than they’ve had in years. The million dollar question is, can Hewlett-Packard possibly live up to these new lofty expectations?
The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is yes.
Last week’s announcement from HPQ that it would venture into the 3D printing game is undoubtedly big news. But, it wasn’t the reason another batch of buyers fell in love with HPQ stock enough to push it to new highs. The reason HPQ stock has continued to make bullish (albeit erratic) progress since early 2013 is that Hewlett-Packard has continued to execute Whitman’s three-pronged plan.
The first goal was to build products consumers want rather than products you want them to want. The second was to manage costs, even if it means killings products. And the final, and most important, goal was to become a premier name again in the enterprise-level market, capitalizing on the company’s ultra-energy-efficient “Moonshot” server technology.
Smart efforts on all three fronts have paid off. In a post-earnings interview with The Wall Street Journal in February, Meg Whitman was asked how HPQ managed to grow its PC sales by 4% in the previous quarter. Here’s how she responded”
“…Our multi-operating system, multi-form factor strategy and focus on new segments has been key to the success. We grew 8% in the commercial business. That is where the profit is made. We have to take share in the commercial side.”
Growth of its enterprise-level business? That’s right in line with prong No. 3 of the aforementioned three-pronged plan. Products with the choices of guts and operating systems that buyers want? That falls under the first part of Whitman’s three-part mission noted above. Hewlett-Packard also won a contract with the Department of Defense earlier in this month, underscoring the idea that enterprise is the key to the budding turnaround for Hewlett-Packard and HPQ stock.
The enterprise picture looks relatively rosy going forward, too. With IBM (IBM) getting out of the low-end server business by selling that business to Chinese computer company Lenovo, it’s likely Hewlett-Packard will be able to garner some new domestic business from buyers that explicitly want to deal with a U.S.-based supplier. That new business could be a great catalyst for HPQ stock.
Hewlett-Packard has also beefed up its mobile capabilities, announcing in mid-March that its cloud-based mobility technology was compliant with requirements laid out in the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, which (among other things) lays out how government employees remotely connect to government computer networks. Government divisions and agencies represent a huge opportunity.
Given all of those successes, the advent of an HP-branded 3D printer certainly won’t hurt HPQ stock.
Some have been critical of how long it took the company to make the decision to get into the 3D printing game, but it appears to be a smart strategic decision. After observing what’s good and bad about current printer choices, HP has made it clear it’s aiming at the higher-end, enterprise-level 3D printer market first and foremost.
It’s a distinct difference from the buzz that drove 3D printing stocks like Stratasys (SSYS) and 3D Systems (DDD) sharply higher last year. Those names were market darlings primarily because they were associated with low-cost 3D printers that the average consumer could begin to afford.
HPQ, however, recognizes that it can win market share and generate higher margins in the enterprise-level 3D printer market by leveraging its know-how to solve two key problems with current 3D printing technologies. Those challenges are the questionable durability of the printed goods, and the lengthy amount of time required to print even the simplest of objects. (Whitman has compared the speed of most 3D printers to the speed at which ice melts.)
If Hewlett-Packard can come up with a 3D printer that’s truly faster and produces higher quality results — which is entirely possible — the company may soon dominate that market, too … a market expected to be worth $11 billion by 2021.
As much progress has been made since 2012, HPQ is still closer to the beginning of its turnaround than the end of it. Better yet, the size of the opportunity the new-and-improved Hewlett-Packard has waiting in front of it seems to be expanding rather than contracting as time goes on, particularly now that IBM is out of the way in the server market, and HPQ has a product that it can market to government divisions. The 3D printing opportunity is just a little gravy.
Most compelling of all, however, is that even with the 36% runup over the past twelve months, the price of HPQ stock relative to its current and projected earnings is still quite minimal.
For perspective, HPQ stock is trading at 11.5 times its trailing twelve-month income, and only 8.2 times fiscal 2015’s estimated profit. And, considering Hewlett-Packard has topped estimates in twelve of its last thirteen quarters, odds are pretty good that low forward-looking P/E ratio really is as juicy as it looks for HPQ stock.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.
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