As the Hard Drive Market Teeters, Western Digital Pounces

When good opportunities arise, smart managers act. Western Digital (NYSE: WDC  ) chief executive John Coyne is no dummy.

Earlier today, his company announced a $4.3 billion acquisition of Hitachi's (NYSE: HIT  ) data storage business unit. Coyne will remain CEO of the combined company while Hitachi's Steve Milligan assumes the role of president.

In a statement, Coyne ticked off all the usual platitudes for a deal like this. Enhanced R&D and innovation. Expansion of the product portfolio. Comprehensive market coverage. Skilled workforces combining.

You know what? It's hogwash. Every bit of it.

The only thing in Coyne's statement that's worth paying attention to is this: "[The deal will] enhance our cost structure and ability to compete in a dynamic marketplace." [Emphasis added.]

He's referring to a tablet-fueled transition to solid-state drives that favors SanDisk (Nasdaq: SNDK  ) and STEC (Nasdaq: STEC  ) more than Hitachi, Western Digital, or rival Seagate Technology (Nasdaq: STX  ) . PC demand has slowed as a result.

But don't take my word for it. Earlier this month, analysts at JPMorgan lowered their forecast for hard drive demand. They expect PC demand to grow just 7% this year versus an earlier forecast of 9.5% growth, Barron's reports.

The good news? Large-scale drives are becoming more popular. JPMorgan says that demand for "enterprise" drives for storage of networked data should rise 12.5% this year versus the 6.6% previously forecast. Hitachi has done well in this niche.

With the entire data storage market getting tougher, cost per megabyte has become an increasingly crucial measure for the industry's top dogs. Western Digital has shown it's willing to spend $4.3 billion to win the race to the bottom. Expect its peers to answer the challenge.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about this deal, the hard drive market, and the long-term opportunity for solid-state drives using the comments box below.

To keep tabs on Western Digital, make sure to add it to My Watchlist, our free, personalized stock tracking service.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Western Digital and is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy knows when the price is right. No showcase showdown required.


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  • Report this Comment On March 07, 2011, at 8:39 PM, MegaEurope wrote:

    Disagree.

    Everything Coyne said is true.

    "cost per megabyte has become an increasingly crucial measure for the industry's top dogs."

    It has always been a crucial measure. If you have anything to back up your statement that it's becoming way more important, I would love to see it!

    "Western Digital has shown it's willing to spend $4.3 billion to win the race to the bottom."

    This is totally backwards. The average price/GB across WD's line is actually a lot lower than the average price/GB across HGST. Yet since HGST is in enterprise and SSD, the margins are higher.

  • Report this Comment On March 13, 2011, at 10:22 AM, FoolSolo wrote:

    I have to disagree. Race to the bottom is extremely overstated. I don't quite understand how you can say that when in the same article you say "PC demand to grow just 7% this year", and add "enterprise drives for storage of networked data should rise 12.5% this year".

    While growth may be slowing down, it is not disappearing. There are a number of forces behind the changes, and they are not just tablet fueled. The tablet may take a bite out of PCs, particularly net-books, but it is not wiping the PC off the planet.

    Cloud is changing a lot of the dynamics in the market, making it so your data lives in large central data centers, and your access to your data doesn't require a lot of client computing storage or computing power. This will change the type of demand from local PC storage to large corporate cloud storage.

    Do you know of any good size corporation in the world that is reducing their storage capacity? I certainly don't. I can't even think when my last company ever had a year where we bought fewer disks.

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