It must sometimes seem as if nobody knows quite what to make of Meg Whitman's Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). Is the glass half full or half empty? Your guess is as good as the financial media's.
I did a simple Google search to measure the various observations about the state of HP, the world's biggest maker of information technology hardware.
I came away shaking my head -- as, I imagine, many HP investors and prospective shareholders must have been doing as well recently.
Consider the differences in the tones of the headlines that followed HP's second-quarter financial report issued on May 22:
- "Earnings Exceed Forecasts at a Diminished HP" -- The New York Times
- "HP Soars as Meg Whitman turnaround Continues" -- CNNMoney
- "HP Profit Slips 32%, But Shares Surge Amid Signs of Improvement" -- The Wall Street Journal
- "HP Earnings, Outlook Beat Expectations" -- CNBC
- "HP Earnings Not So Strong at Second Glance -- Yahoo! Finance (This proclamation appeared several days after the numbers came out. Ah, those nettlesome second glances!)
If the theater critics diverged so much in their reviews of a new show on Broadway, nobody would know whether they should see it or not.
This, precisely, is the quandary that investors are in, too. Should they buy or sell or hold HP's shares right now?
CEO Whitman doesn't always make it any easier for the confused people. As Whitman, who took the helm 20 months ago, told The New York Times after the company's earnings announcement: "We are rebuilding ourselves in some of the most profound changes I've seen. We have a number of growing businesses, but we have a number of declining businesses. It's hard to cross over from one to the other."
In the quarter, HP said net income tumbled 32 percent to $1 billion, or $0.55 per share, off from the year-before three-month period. The revenue dropped 10%, to $27.6 billion, the company reported. Cash flow surged 44%, to $3.6 billion.
The net income came in higher than the forecasts by the Wall Street analysts. HP garnered net income of $0.87 a share. Wall Street had predicted that HP would make $0.81 a share, based on revenue of $28.12 billion, according to a poll conducted by Thomson Reuters.
For her part, Whitman is the fourth HP CEO in the past six years, a record that, upon her arrival, had done little to inspire investors who covet stability at the top of the organization.
Whitman was named CEO after the Sept. 22, 2011 market close. Since then, HP has increased about 10%, compared with the benchmark S&P 500's surge of approximately 45% in the same period.
But tellingly, HP's shares jumped 13% in after-hours trading following the release of the quarterly results. Further indicating that Whitman is, indeed, making sharp progress on Wall Street, HP is up 75% this year compared to the S&P 500's 15% rise.
When Whitman took the reins, she encountered a problem-ridden outfit with sales challenges and formidable competitors at every turn.
The question is: Can HP respond to the demands of the New Silicon Valley? As The New York Times put it recently: "H.P. however, is still far from being a company with a significant future in a world of cloud computing, mobile devices and real-time analysis of lots of data. While Ms. Whitman is rebuilding cash reserves and rushing to create new products, it may be years before H.P. can make as much from new hardware and software as it used to make from older products, if it ever does."
Is HP half full or half empty? You'll have to make the call. The rest of us are too confused right now.