2 Tech Companies That Should Break Up

by Brad Moon | February 11, 2013 6:30 am

Reports are making the rounds that the board of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ[1]) is considering breaking upthe company — separating the money-losing divisions from the profitable ones in an attempt to maximize the company’s overall value for investors.

HP is currently trading for just over $16, while a piece in Quartz theorizes that the resulting companies from a broken up HP could combine to be worth anywhere from $20 to $29 per share[2].

While it’s not much more than a rumor at this point, there is some logic to it. After all, HP has tried just about everything else — from a parade of CEOs to disastrous acquisitions[3] — and it still seems to be on the fast track to nowhere. Heck, it at least wouldn’t make things worse.

HP isn’t the only one either; there are plenty of other big technology companies out there with a division or two that’s dragging them down. Let’s take a look at two of them.


Sony (NYSE:SNE[4]) was once a consumer electronics leader, but it has fallen on tough times. One of the chief causes? Its money-losing TV division. The company has posted eight straight quarters in the red (although it’s hoping to finally manage a full-year profit[5]), while it’s been losing money on TVs for the better part of a decade.

Sony is already selling off assets including real estate — the $1.1 billion it’s getting for its U.S. headquarters in New York[6] is the primary reason it might be able to finish the year slightly in the black — and its chemical subsidiary[7]. The company is reportedly considering selling its battery business as well … on top of laying off 10,000 workers.

By making the move, a huge drag on Sony’s stock would be gone, allowing Sony to focus on other core businesses … including the potential to further leverage its PlayStation gaming console and entertainment properties in the living room. When you look at Sony’s annual report from last year[8], televisions made up 13% of the company’s yearly revenue, but the Consumer Products & Services division (which makes those TVs) was responsible for almost the entire operational loss for the year. TVs are not solely responsible for the dismal performance of CP&S, but even in a year when Sony is projecting a return to profitability, Bloomberg says that TV-making is expected to be in the hole by about $866 million.

Still, it’s possible to make money by selling TVs. Panasonic (NYSE:PC[9]) appears to have turned its business around[10] for the moment and Samsung (PINK:SSNLF[11]) is doing okay. If Sony spun off its TV division, there’s a chance that new company could make it.


Yes, BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY[12]) has seen a rally in recent months, finally pulled off the delivery of its new BB10 operating system and will be launching new BlackBerry devices in the U.S. in a matter of weeks.

But analysts still give the Canadian smartphone pioneer slim odds of succeeding in this turnaround. Even trading near $17, BlackBerry’s market cap is just $8.5 billion. With nearly $3 billion in cash, a patent portfolio that could be worth billions more and lines of business that could be sold to competitors[13], BlackBerry may be worth more simply sold off piecemeal. But for the sake of this exercise, what if it instead “broke up?”

Look at the dismal state of BlackBerry smartphone marketshare, for one. In the Q4 2012 IDC report on smartphone vendors, BlackBerry doesn’t even make the list; it’s ignominiously lumped in with “others.”[14]  Still, the BlackBerry operating system and BlackBerry network remain highly valued by security-minded enterprise and government agencies.

Instead of pursuing the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL[15]) model of being the sole vendor of both operating system and smartphone, BlackBerry could split into multiple units — say, one selling hardware and the other selling the operating system and BlackBerry Messenger. Think Google (NASDAQ:GOOG[16]). Yes, it does now have a Motorola division making smartphones, but it develops Android and other manufacturers sell the handsets it runs on, helping Android to be the most popular mobile platform.

A BlackBerry that only makes smartphones could focus on a quality experience, selling premium models and even choosing to offer an Android phone if it wanted. It would have a much larger customer pool, despite the increased competition. The services and OS provider could also greatly expand its reach as a platform by licensing access to other vendors.

Of course, neither of these two scenarios — Sony and BlackBerry splitting up — is likely. For the latter, though, is at least a possibility. CEO Thorsten Heinz has openly speculated about licensing BB10 or selling off the hardware division[17].

And just for a quick thought exercise, consider this: What would happen to Apple’s value if it split up into multiple companies? After all, its iPhone business — if a standalone company — rings up bigger yearly revenues[18] than all of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT[19]). And its Mac division, while still healthy compared to the rest of the PC makers, has hit some bumps recently[20] that were a drag on earnings and contributed to Apple’s stock slump.

Would a switch to Apple and Apple Computer add up to more than $475? I doubt we’ll ever find out, but it seems likely.

As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

  1. HPQ: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=HPQ
  2. from $20 to $29 per share: http://qz.com/50045/hp-board-is-studying-whether-to-break-up-the-company/
  3. disastrous acquisitions: https://investorplace.com/2012/11/no-winners-in-hpqs-blame-game/
  4. SNE: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=SNE
  5. it’s hoping to finally manage a full-year profit: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/08/technology/weaker-yen-helps-sony-trim-losses-for-quarter.html?_r=0
  6. $1.1 billion it’s getting for its U.S. headquarters in New York: http://www.engadget.com/2013/01/17/sony-selling-ny-headquarters/
  7. chemical subsidiary: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/22/us-sony-chemicals-idUSBRE82L00P20120322
  8. Sony’s annual report from last year: http://www.sony.net/SonyInfo/IR/financial/ar/2012/financial/
  9. PC: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=PC
  10. appears to have turned its business around: http://www.engadget.com/2013/02/01/panasonic-q4-2012-financials/
  11. SSNLF: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=SSNLF
  12. BBRY: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=BBRY
  13. lines of business that could be sold to competitors: https://investorplace.com/2013/01/lenovo-buying-rim-makes-sense-but/
  14. it’s ignominiously lumped in with “others.”: https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS23916413%23.URUkoqUTvZs
  15. AAPL: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=AAPL
  16. GOOG: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=GOOG
  17. selling off the hardware division: http://www.theverge.com/2013/1/21/3899052/rim-may-sell-hardware-division-after-blackberry-10-launch
  18. rings up bigger yearly revenues: http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/08/19/apples-iphone-is-now-worth-more-than-all-of-microsoft/
  19. MSFT: http://studio-5.financialcontent.com/investplace/quote?Symbol=MSFT
  20. has hit some bumps recently: https://investorplace.com/2013/01/what-the-heck-happened-to-apples-pc-sales/

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