Left for dead at the end of 2012, Hewlett Packard (HPQ) shares instead took off and doubled in 2013. Is there another tech stock poised to reward investors in the same way in 2014?
But a year ago, HP wasn’t just out of favor – it was left for dead. In 2012, the company suffered a disastrous year of falling revenue, multi-billion dollar write offs and missed opportunities. HP shares dropped to less than book value. And with tablets and phones killing PC sales, printer usage dropping and emerging market economies slowing, 2013 didn’t look much better.
Why did the stock bounce back? It’s a bit hard to explain since, during 2013, HP did little to address the big headline challenges, which if anything got worse. Revenue declined again in every business segment. And yet…the stock doubled.
How’d they do it? There were two critical conditions in place. First, the 2012 sell off had gone way too far, creating a deep value opportunity. And second, there were plenty of ways for CEO Meg Whitman to exceed Wall Street’s depressed expectations. Even without solving the company’s big challenges. Whitman tightened the ship by slashing expenses, firing workers and reducing debt.
So could IBM’s relatively new CEO Ginni Rometty pull off the same trick? It’s possible but the problem is that expectations for IBM aren’t at depressed levels. Sure, sales have declined for the past two years and the stock missed out on the market rally, dropping 2% last year. But analysts still expect more than $18 earnings per share in 2014 and their average rating is a “hold.” Maybe if IBM misses a few quarters of analyst expectation and the stock truly tanks, it will reach hated status. But not yet.
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The same is true of some other underperforming bellwethers like Cisco Systems and Intel.
Cisco is also under threat from cloud computing and in particular the growing potential of software defined networking. Such software takes the intelligence -- and the cost -- out of a network’s hardware and puts it in the software. But again, analysts expect pretty good profits in 2014 and the stock rose 14% last year. No tragic plunge yet.
Intel, the giant of the PC era, is clearly struggling to find its way in the Post-PC era. Revenue is forecast to have declined 1% in 2013 amid the 10% decline in PC sales for the year, the worst drop in history. Like HP, Intel has virtually no market share in smartphones or tablets, where chips based on ARM designs reign. Still, Intel is not totally out of favor as the stock last year gained 26%.
No, the true heir to HP is BlackBerry (BBRY). Disastrously late and wrong on smartphones since the iPhone came along, BlackBerry shares dropped 37% last year after already having lost 90% of their value the previous two years. Revenue declined by 41% and net income turned into a loss. Analysts have slashed and burned estimates for the next 2 quarters by 85% in the past three months. Wall Street now expects a loss per share of $1.79 for 2014.
Amid these depressed expectations, new CEO John Chen could fix the market’s perception that BlackBerry will be out of business even without producing miracle new phones. He’s already laid out a game plan like Whitman’s, removing costs and reducing risk by outsourcing some manufacturing to Foxconn, for example.
In the stock market, obviously, there are no guarantees. But sometimes it pays to pick a hated stock and few stocks are more hated than BlackBerry.
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