Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
The bull market presses on, from one milestone to the next. Stocks were essentially unchanged today, as the S&P 500 and the narrower, price-weighted Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) notched up gains of just 0.01% and 0.002% respectively. Nevertheless, that was enough to put the Dow on a new record high, joining the small-cap Russell 2000 index.
However, it's the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index that grabbed the spotlight today by closing above 4,000 for the first time in more than 13 years. Back in early October, I highlighted the fact that the Nasdaq had quietly tripled off its bear market low of March 9, 2009. This has been an extraordinary run!
Hewlett-Packard ends its year on a pretty good note
One large-cap technology stock that has vastly underperformed the S&P 500, let alone the Nasdaq over that period, is Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ). However, the shares have outperformed handsomely this year, and they look set to add to that outperformance on Wednesday on the back of this afternoon's release of fiscal fourth-quarter results.
The headline numbers are these: Adjusted earnings per share came in at $1.01, a penny above Wall Street expectations, while net revenue of $29.1 billion also beat the consensus forecast of $27.9 billion. Nevertheless, those results represent year-on-year declines of 13% and 3%, respectively, which underscores the challenging position Hewlett-Packard finds itself in.
A "beat" is always nice, but beating on earnings per share by a penny is not why investors pushed the stock up 5.4% in the after-hours session, except inasmuch as it reflects an improvement that will translate into better-than-expected future results. The company has already banked fiscal fourth-quarter earnings, folks, and the stock price reflects expected future cash flows.
On that front, HP reaffirmed the (adjusted) earnings-per-share guidance for fiscal 2014 of $3.55 to $3.75 per share that it provided at its annual analyst day on Oct. 9. Analysts have aligned themselves on that range for a consensus forecast of $3.66. Although the analyst day was barely more than six weeks ago, just reaffirming guidance today will almost certainly have cheered analysts and investors.
Indeed, data from some of HP's peers have been less than encouraging recently. Two weeks ago, another technology spending bellwether, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) shocked analysts by forecasting an 8% to 10% year-on-year decline in revenues for the current quarter and issuing guidance for fiscal 2014 earnings per share that fell short of Wall Street's expectations. Cisco CEO John Chambers blamed weak demand in emerging markets for his dismal outlook. In its fiscal 2012, Hewlett-Packard generated nearly two-thirds of its revenues outside the United States.
In fact, HP's Enterprise Group was the standout among its business units last quarter, posting 2% year-on-year revenue growth (all other segments experienced declines), with industry standard servers and networking up 10% and 3%, respectively.
Frankly, the other businesses continue to struggle, either with secular change affecting the entire industry or with the legacy of self-inflicted wounds. However, an arrest in the rate of decline in Personal Systems (i.e., notebooks, desktops, and workstations) was also a welcome development.
HP CEO Meg Whitman has said that 2014 will be a "pivotal year" for the company and that the turnaround she initiated after becoming chief executive in September 2011 is "on track." The stock market appears to have endorsed that assessment so far this year, sending the shares up nearly 80%, and it looks as if that number will improve further still tomorrow. I'm not a fan of investing in turnarounds, particularly in industries undergoing extraordinary change; however, at less than 7 times the next 12 months' earnings-per-share estimate, it's quite conceivable there is more juice to be wrung from this turnaround stock.