- Which of the two halves of HP should you own?
- The old HP is dogged by falling prices and is entering a niche that looks to have failed in 3D printing.
- The Enterprise unit is selling services in a market that has moved on to the cloud.
Since HP INC (NYSE:HPQ), the maker of PCs and printers, split from HP Enterprises (NYSE:HPE), the services arm run by former HP CEO Meg Whitman, in November, it has lost nearly one-third of its value while HPE has held steady. So which one of them should you buy?
Analysts actually like HP Inc, with 11 calling it a buy, 15 a hold, and with three calling it overweight. They are guessing it can earn 37 cents per share in the current quarter, which will be reported on February 23, and $1.61 for the current fiscal year.
If it can manage those estimates it is a screaming buy, with a Price/Earnings multiple of about 6. (The current P/E of 4 is misleading, as it’s based on the company as it was before the split.) The problem is that this is all really a guess, based entirely on estimates over how Christmas went. We will know much better how to value the company after earnings are released.
At my house, Christmas went rather well. I bought an HP Netbook over the holidays, running Windows 10, and it works. But the 32 Gigabyte chip drive isn’t big enough to hold much software beyond the operating system, and if the WiFi isn’t working the thing is basically a brick. I bought it because the price was right, just $200, and that’s the heart of the company’s problem, the fact that PC hardware, like printer hardware, just isn’t worth much. It’s cheap, commoditized, and less useful every year.
Any speculation on HP Inc stock must be based on its 3D printer, which has yet to be released.
The problem is that this niche collapsed during 2015. Market-leader 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) lost two-thirds of its value in the last year, with falling sales and accelerating losses. Rival Stratasys (NASDAQ:SSYS) did even worse, losing 78% of its value in the last year. The hobbyist market has dried up, so has the buzz, and even HP’s promises that its Multi-Jet Fusion runs 10 times faster than the competition start to ring hollow, due to the limited range of materials it uses.
So how about Hewlett-Packard Enterprise?
HP Enterprise stock has done better than that of its larger companion, but the earnings are expected to be no better, the whisper number is just 39 cents/share. The company is mostly the old EDS, which the company bought a decade ago, but services seem anachronistic in the cloud era.
The company’s key niche seems to be security but most of its announced layoffs are coming from this side of the business. It’s also trying to sell its Indian arm, Mphasis. CEO Whitman, meanwhile, is spending much of her time on the campaign trail.
The best reason for owning either HPQ stock or HPE stock is the hope of a sale, at a profit. You’re gambling in the former case that it can jump start a moribund industry in 3D printing, in the latter case that it can either find a niche or get taken out fairly quickly.
Personally, I find neither bet worth making at this time.