HP As a Whole Hangs On

With the departure of CEO Carly Fiorina, you will once again start hearing a lot of Wall Street analysts and pundits arguing for the breakup of Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) as the way to kick-start its lagging share price.

Sure, some kind of restructuring might help. But judging by HP's first-quarter 2005 results, it won't cure the underlying problems. Slice it, dice it, chop it in half -- pretty much regardless of how you look at the tech giant, you will find a bunch of underperforming businesses operating in nasty and brutal markets.

Just look at the imaging and printing business, HP's top-performing unit and analysts' favorite candidate for a spinoff. Cracks are starting to show as it comes under cutthroat pricing pressure from Lexmark (NYSE: LXK  ) , Canon (NYSE: CAJ  ) , and now Dell (NYSE: DELL  ) . Sales are up by 3% from last year, but profits are down by 3.6%. Operating margins for the unit shrunk to 15.4% this quarter from 16.6% in Q4.

In consumer PCs, HP is still getting punished by Dell, which just reported record numbers. While the PC business's top line nudged up slightly, it looks like that growth, again, comes thanks to aggressive price discounting.

Profitability was down in the technology solutions group, which consists of storage, servers, and software and services. Rapidly shifting preferences in data storage technology are rapidly putting the market into the hands of EMC (NYSE: EMC  ) and Network Appliance (Nasdaq: NTAP  ) . In servers, HP must go toe-to-toe with its old foe, IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , and also with Dell. On the software and services side, HP is basically stuck in the maintenance business, where margins are shrinking.

In total, HP's quarterly sales were up 10% year on year to $943 million, and net income edged up 1%. That said, its Q1 bottom line was rescued by a lower tax rate and a well-timed reduction in research and development spending. HP's tax rate was nearly halved from last year, and research and development as a percentage of sales dropped from 4.6% to 4.1%. Without these changes, HP's quarterly profits would likely have shrunk about 8% from last year.

HP the conglomerate is struggling. That's for certain. But Fools take note: Spun off and cut loose, the company's various units won't have an easy time on their own either.

HP competitor Dell Computer is aMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendation. Subscribe today with a six-month money-back guarantee to learn more.

Fool contributor Ben McClure doesn't own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.

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