Technically, you should sell Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) right now.

We examined the company using moving average convergence-divergence, which is one of the most popular and long-used technical analysis indicators. Technical analysis is the field of buying and selling stocks not based on the underlying merits of a company, but rather on the patterns and formulas around its price movements.

Signal line crossover is one of the more common ways to interpret MACD. It uses a series of moving averages (in this case, nine, 12, and 26 days) to look for bullish and bearish crossovers that indicate a stock has momentum in one direction or another. Below you can find a current chart of Hewlett-Packard's MACD profile:


Confused? Well, that's preposterous! How could you ever be confused by something as simplistic as a moving average convergence-divergence chart! OK, we're jesting -- but in all seriousness, this is actually one of the simpler methods for technical analysis.

Still, if you'd strictly followed the rules, seeking out upward and downward momentum, you would have seen the stock move between buy and sell categories 21 times!

A better way to size up companies
Here at Fool.com we're more interested in other measures of company value. When we look at Hewlett-Packard and its peers, here are the areas that interest us:

Company

Hewlett-Packard

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL)

Dell (Nasdaq: DELL)

IBM (NYSE: IBM)

 

Market cap (millions)

$108,087

$237,610

$25,693

$164,143

 

Annual revenue growth

2.18

30.92

(3.37)

0.11

 

Revenue (TTM, millions)

$119,976

$57,089

$55,434

$95,111

 

Operating margin (TTM)

10.09%

29.12%

5.06%

19.76%

 

P/E (TTM)

13.13

19.58

17.39

12.30

 

PEG

0.93

0.84

1.18

1.15

 

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's; TTM = trailing 12 months.

We prefer to look at the fundamental drivers of value. Investors should closely watch statistical fields like return on equity as well as qualitative values like competitive advantage and managerial effectiveness. These areas led investors like Warren Buffett and Seth Klarman to decades of outperformance. Buying and holding great companies is the best solution for individual investors to build lasting wealth and achieve their financial goals.

So when you look at Hewlett-Packard, don't evaluate it for crossing a momentum line. Buy or sell it because:

  • While HP is suffering from the recent scandal of CEO Mark Hurd having to leave amid sexual harassment allegations, its business has been booming in recent years. HP's acquisition of EDS poured rocket fuel on the growth of its services division and transformed the company from a PC maker into an IBM-like seller of both hardware and services. The result of that transformation: booming profits and return on equity for shareholders. The company moved from a return on equity of 6.4% in 2005 to 20.3% today.
  • HP has long had a strategic alliance with key partner Cisco. However, relations between the two have thawed recently as Cisco moved into the server business with its Unified Computing system. While Cisco's move into servers is a threat to HP, it's also an opportunity. HP is now getting more aggressive against the networking giant and pushing forward into growth opportunities like collaboration tools. As HP continues to build itself into a hardware plus software and services juggernaut, it'll be exposed to several areas of high growth within IT.
  • HP may be diversifying away from consumer products like PCs, however, it's still a large part of the company's business and brand. In that space, the company faces several challenges. Consumers are shifting their spending away from traditional PCs and into netbooks, tablets, and smartphones. While HP is competitive in netbooks, they're cheaper and bring about more competition from Asian manufacturers and lower profit margins. HP recently acquired Palm to compete in tablets and smartphones. This is a risky move as Palm never really caught on with consumers and lacks the massive app library and developer support that the iPhone and Android have.

Want to sell Hewlett-Packard based on technical merits today? Technically, odds are you should flip and buy Hewlett-Packard sometime very soon. If that sounds like madness to you, well, we here at the Fool.com agree. In every market decline, technical analysis gets its share of proponents. The cries that "buy-and-hold is dead!" get louder, and individuals race toward schemes that promise greater wealth in a shorter amount of time.

I don't deny that technical analysis could make investors money. In any random short-term transaction, you're essentially playing a 50/50 game of chance. However, at the same time, most technical analysis schemes are a relatively simple science, eliminating the vast complexities of evaluating true company value. However attractive, this theory is ultimately the wrong path for individual investors. Technical analysis relies on long-held beliefs about exploiting momentum and consistent patterns throughout the market.

However, with as much as 75% of market trading now done by Ph.D.-level programmers at massive high-frequency funds, even if opportunities existed, what chance would an individual have to sniff these deals out? With so much volume now driven by these funds, how can you be certain the same rules of patterns still even exist?

I could also point to Massey University's study across 49 countries, which showed that more than 5,000 trading rules add no value. However, the real reason to forget about technical investing is what we mentioned earlier: Hewlett-Packard crossed the crossover 21 times across the past year! While traders might not buy and sell with each crossing, cases of high momentum are normally short-lived. The amount of trading in most technical analysis schemes racks up commission fees and short-term capital gains taxes, eating away at profits. More importantly, it takes away from the idea of holding a portfolio of great companies that can accrue wealth over a long time horizon.

That's why, at Fool.com, we recommend that individual investors establish a portfolio of well-managed companies with strong advantages over their competitors. In the end, we find that to be the best contributor to long-term wealth. More importantly, it'll spare you from sitting bleary-eyed in front of a computer with a Big Gulp full of coffee, frantically buying in and out of companies. But, hey, if your idea of protecting your future is charting the ups and downs of moving average convergence-divergence charts, then Hewlett-Packard looks like a sell right now. Just don't expect to hold it for very long.

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Jeremy Phillips owns shares of no companies listed above. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.