Today's Top Tech Stories: China Is the New PC King, Oracle Eyes HP

After a rough couple of weeks, the Nasdaq looked poised for a strong open to the week yesterday, but eventually gave up gains. However, the index seems to have regained positive traction today, rising 1.5% in early trading. What was supposed to be a sleepy August after earnings season has turned into a raucous affair. Let's get straight to the top two tech stories from the last 24 hours.

Tech News No. 1: China surpasses the U.S.
With more than four times the population of the United States, a booming economy, and more than 485 million Internet users, it was only a matter of time before China's PC sales eclipsed that of the United States. Market researcher IDC reports that last quarter, Chinese PC shipments reached 18.5 million, while U.S. PC shipments fell to 17.7 million. Compared with last year, that's 14% growth for the Chinese market, and a 4.8% decline in the American market.

Those shipments also translated into higher sales totals. The value of shipments to China was $11.9 billion, edging a bit ahead of the $11.7 billion worth of PC shipments to the U.S. While there's little in the way to profit directly from buying PC makers -- China's PC market is fiercely competitive and margins are anemic -- a couple of companies profiting from Chinese PC growth are flying under the radar:

NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) : NVIDIA has seen its share price collapse as investors piled out of "riskier" stocks and toward safety. The storyline around the company is that it's milking its cash-cow graphics processor line while the PC slowly dies, and that it's betting its future on a new mobile processor. However, that storyline ignores the massive graphics-processor growth possible in China. NVIDIA reports that graphics-card attach rates are in the 80% range in China, while America's attach rate flounders in the 20s.

The extreme popularity of online RPGs in China is a key factor in helping drive surprisingly high graphics-processor adoption rates, and the newest crop of online games is pushing the graphical envelope in new ways. Older "2.5D" titles are showing their age, but a group of new RPGs like Changyou's (Nasdaq: CYOU  ) 3-D online martial arts role playing game Duke of Mount Deer push quite a bit of graphical horsepower. As these newer RPGs gain popularity, that only puts more momentum behind NVIDIA in China.

That's not to say NVIDIA's graphics processor business will be a growth monster -- the segment was still flat from last month. However, trading at just 13 times earnings, with 35% of its market cap sitting in the bank, NVIDIA's graphics processing segment isn't exactly priced to drive much growth, either.

Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) : While Intel might be struggling to catch a break in the mobile market, emerging market demand has been pushing it ahead of expectations in recent quarters. So while it might be weird to describe market leader Intel as "flying under the radar," the company likes to remind analysts that so called "white box" vendors that make cheap PCs in China are undercounted by researchers like IDC. That undercounting accounts for Intel's ability to keep delivering on better than expected earnings. Likewise Intel's also seeing nice tailwinds from Brazil, which is expected to become the third largest PC market behind the U.S. and China next year.

Tech News No. 2: Oracle eyes... HP?
It almost feels inevitable, doesn't it? Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) falls from grace, and the media whips into a frenzy over whether the company is now cheap enough that Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) might make a bid. And the story does have a certain level of "sex appeal" to it. There's little to no doubt Larry Ellison would love to have a 12-point buck like HP mounted on his wall. However, there are some major complications.

For one, Oracle would have little interest in the HP's PC and printing business. That could be among the easier problems to fix, as HP is already planning on spinning off its PC line. That would leave HP's server, services, and software units, which contribute a combined $8.8 billion in operating profit per year. If that could be folded into Oracle, it'd be a nice boost as the company commands $12.7 billion in operating profit itself.

Oracle has about $13 billion in net cash -- and $29 billion total -- so the deal would involve a fair bit of leverage. Even after its precipitous fall, HP is still worth more than $50 billion. Also, there's the allure of building up a better services and software division to compete against IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) . However, software still accounts for less than 10% of HP's non-printing and PC sales.

Even worse, while HP signaled a change in direction with its $10 billion acquisition of Autonomy, news that trickled out in subsequent days points to a company that was looking for any software suitor it could find; HP had previously approached both Tibco and Teradata (NYSE: TDC  ) . Those are both fine companies, but the broader point is that HP's "strategy" leaves a lot to desire. While Tibco, Teradata, and Autonomy all target the enterprise, their technology is very different. It looks like HP's strategy amounts to "find a high growth software company and worry about the details later." That's not exactly the kind of game plan you'd want for tackling a giant like IBM.

So while it might excite the tech world to think about the possibilities of an Oracle and HP tie-up, don't get your hopes up that HP will be Larry's next megatarget.

To stay updated on the Oracle and HP situation, or NVIDIA and Intel's fortunes in the booming Chinese market, make sure to add any of the above companies to our new My Watchlist feature. It's absolutely free and delivers up-to-date news and analysis on all your favorite companies:

Eric Bleeker owns shares of NVIDIA. You can follow him on Twitter to see all of his technology and market commentary. The Motley Fool owns shares of Oracle and IBM. The Fool owns shares of and has bought calls on Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Intel, NVIDIA, Teradata, and Tibco Software; creating a diagonal call position in Intel; and writing puts in NVIDIA. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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 has a disclosure policy.


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