Dell: Market Share First, Profits Later

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) is getting back on track after a couple of tough years. I didn't think the good news would come this early, but the computer peddler pulled a nice surprise on this Fool.

Earnings of $0.38 per share on $16 billion in revenue were "driven by better-than-industry growth of commercial and consumer products and services," according to Dell's first-quarter report last night. That's a 9% year-over-year boost of the top line, and a 12% improvement of net income per share.

Breaking the performance down in the style of MC Hammer, Dell's server division reported 4% higher sales on 21% higher unit volume. That's a tad slower than the worldwide server market, which technology research firm iSuppli figures to have grown by 4.3% in terms of revenue.

This includes 3.7% growth in the largely Unix-dominated RISC systems segment, where Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) , International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM  ) , and Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: JAVA  ) get the lion's share of the cake, and Dell hardly participates at all. If that half of the market was growing slower than the average, then Dell's system lines with Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) and AMD (NYSE: AMD  ) inside must have grown a bit faster, leaving the company a bit further behind the industry's pace.

In all fairness, Dell did outpace its colleagues in the number of systems sold. 21% unit growth just about tripled the industry's growth rate of 7.6%. Hold that thought.

The other cash cow in Dell's barn is the laptop sector, where 43% year-over-year unit growth produced 22% higher sales.

According to the latest available report from DisplaySearch, another independent market researcher, that's better than the 41% unit growth in the entire notebook market. It's also faster than market leader HP and its 42% annual increase, by the skin of Dell's teeth.

What it all means
That's the way (ah-ha! ah-ha!) the company likes it. "Dell's focus remains on growing units faster than the industry," says the press release, which then goes on to list secondary goals like "increasing revenue, profitability and cash flow, and making decisions that deliver the best long-term result." Market share above all, and never mind the margins -- as long as the discount plans and other land-grab tactics help the unit numbers to outgrow the competition. From that vantage point, the quarter was a smashing success.

Dell has a lot of lost market share to steal back before turning on the profit engines at full power. In other words, as nice as this quarter was, the real result of Michael Dell's rebound efforts should come later. That's a pleasant thought for the company's shareholders.

Further Foolishness:

Intel and Dell are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund is an AMD shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure misses those cute cow-pattern computers that used to be everywhere. Moo!

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