3 of This Week's Biggest Surprises in Tech

Say what you want about the tech sector, but it's never boring. Any given week will keep tech investors flooded with product announcements, earnings surprises, and crazy strategy shifts that absolutely nobody saw coming.

These are three of the most shocking pieces of tech news this week.

1. iPrefs
Apple
(NASDAQ: AAPL  ) is sitting on a $137 billion pile of cash, and plenty of outsiders want to give the company some helpful advice on what to do with it. Hedge fund Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn goes the extra mile.

Einhorn recently filed a federal lawsuit to stop Apple from making it harder to issue preferred stock. This week, he held a press conference (!) to explain why this is a good idea. Not only that, but he also came up with a catchy new name for a pretty basic financial instrument.

His so-called iPrefs would be bite-sized preferred share companions to regular Apple shares. They'd trade close to their $50 face value on the open market and would be tied to a perpetual 4% dividend yield.

This way, Apple investors could choose to buy regular shares for capital appreciation or iPrefs for a meaty yield. Income investors don't have to compromise their investments with share-price concerns, growth and value traders wouldn't worry about a static and largely separate dividend-focused issue, and Apple gets to offer bond-like investment vehicles that are actually equities, not debt. Everybody wins, and Einhorn expects the plan to boost Apple's total value by $150 per common share.

The lawsuit looks like a smokescreen, more of a spotlight grabber than an actual business move. That iPrefs moniker only underscores just how media-friendly Einhorn is trying to be. That said, Einhorn had his day in court and shareholders won't get to vote on Apple's blank-check preferred-stock policy this time.

I don't expect Apple to adopt Einhorn's iPrefs, but the media fireworks are pretty entertaining. Coining new terms for familiar concepts keeps English alive! Feel free to keep pushing Cupertino, Mr. Einhorn.

2. Hewlett-Packard soars
Shares of computing veteran Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) soared to the tune of 16% on Friday thanks to a surprisingly strong earnings report. Color me shocked.

HP met Wall Street's revenue targets and crushed earnings estimates. Mind you, the bar was set pretty low. Sales fell 6% year over year, and only the oft-forgotten financial-services arm delivered any growth at all. Earnings also shrank 11% despite CEO Meg Whitman's best efforts at cost controls and synergy hunting.

So this jump doesn't make me want to sing HP's praises while I back up the truck to buy shares. Whitman's stiff-necked refusal to change anything in HP's failing strategy will be the death of a titan. Apple came along to undermine HP's traditional computing strongholds with its mobile computing revolution. Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) quickly piled on with its own Androids and Chromebooks and also assaults HP with cloud-based alternatives in the server space.

These leaders are only the tip of the iceberg that sank HP. Yes, sank, in the past tense. Whitman's company is doomed unless it changes with the times, and it's almost too late already. I'm always stunned when this dead stock walking gets up and runs.

3. TI juices its dividend -- again
Look, there's nothing surprising about seeing Texas Instruments (NASDAQ: TXN  ) sport a strong dividend policy. The semiconductor giant threw off nearly $3 billion of free cash flows in the past four quarters, and dividends give TI some serious investor appeal even in the face of shrinking sales and profits.

But when TI increased its payout by 33% this week, the announcement did catch me off guard. Why? Because it was the second dividend boost in just three quarters.

TI has juiced its payouts by a massive 65% over the last year -- at a time when semiconductor companies (TI included) complain about macroeconomic pressures and slow growth. The end product? An effective 3.3% dividend yield and a 5.2% share-price jump as investors applauded the boost. The stock is trading near 52-week highs.

TXN Dividend Chart

TXN Dividend data by YCharts.

There is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple and what opportunities are left for the company (and, more importantly, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.


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  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2013, at 9:26 AM, H3D wrote:

    "Einhorn recently filed a federal lawsuit to stop Apple from making it harder to issue preferred stock."

    Wrong as usual.

    The federal lawsuit was to prevent that change (that such an issue would require shareholder approval) being put to the shareholders rolled into a single motion with two other significantly unrelated changes.

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