Like Big Blue, HP makes most of its hay outside U.S. borders -- 65% of sales happened abroad in the first quarter, and Asia was the fastest-growing region. Both behemoths sport a fairly sector-agnostic mix of hardware, software, and services. IBM specializes in big-iron servers and enterprise-class business software. HP makes more than half of its sales from printers and consumer-level computer systems.
So when the market for computers, software, and support services accelerates, it takes both HP and IBM along on similar joyrides. However, IBM's chosen weapons sell at higher margins than HP's, so a broad market advance seems to benefit Big Blue more than it does HP. Noted thin-margin operator Dell
Not that HP is sitting on its hands, mind you. Its $31.2 billion in first-quarter sales translated into GAAP earnings of $0.96 per share, and it parlayed 8% stronger revenue year over year into 28% higher earnings. That's a sign of tight cost controls, especially since the low-margin personal systems division posted the strongest growth out of all HP divisions.
CEO Mark Hurd raised his 2010 guidance, saying that "HP is well-positioned to outperform the market." Well, maybe if you factor in the company's acquisitive bent. Its $2.7 billion buyout of networking veteran 3Com
But the fact that HP's sources of growth are either expensive or low-margin in nature makes me a skeptic when it comes to HP as an investment. IBM is cheaper (on a price-to-earnings basis) and pays a more generous dividend. IBM also boasts a one-star advantage in CAPS ratings, meaning I’m not alone in that assessment.
In my book, Big Blue beats HP hands down. What do you think, dear reader? Spill the beans in the comment box below.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. The Fool owns shares of Oracle. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.