Our Take on HP Analyst Day: Higher Dividends, Much Higher

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Does anyone truly care about it being the 2013 Securities Analyst Meeting for Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ)? The stock market is so enthralled with the company that even the S&P Indexes group decided that H-P was no longer worthy of being counted as one of the thirty Dow Jones Industrial Average components. And what about HP's guidance ahead and its discussion of missteps along the way. The long and short of the matter is that investors and market participants should care about the meeting, particularly when it comes to waiting for future dividend checks.

We mean no offense to Meg Whitman here. In fact, Meg Whitman may be the only good thing that HP has done on its own since before it fired mark Hurd. The board ruined HP when they booted Mark Hurd and then approving silly acquisition after acquisition hasn't helped matters. Whitman's turnaround plan is a lengthy one even if battleships cannot turn on a dime.

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HP is giving guidance for normalized (non-GAAP) earnings of $3.55 to $3.75 per share for its fiscal year 2014. Unfortunately, its real earnings (GAAP) is down at $2.85 to $3.05 per share after you account for stock options, restructuring costs, and other supposed one-time items.

Perhaps more important is that HP is modeling free cash flow of $6 billion to $6.5 billion in fiscal 2014 with total cash flows being $9 billion to $9.5 billion and it is forecasting that it sees returning at least 50% of that free cash flow to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases. Our take is that this implies even higher dividends, but keep in mind that guidance back in August was that HP expected free cash flow to approach $8 billion by the end of Fiscal year 2013.

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It seems hard to imagine, but HP could still lift its dividend even after being left in the dust by Apple Inc. (AAPL). Meg Whitman calls the past year as being the "fix and rebuild" year, but she is still hanging on to the turnaround strategy being a multi-year event. Whitman also talked up the net debt reduction of $8 billion, and has a goal of approaching zero net debt.

Whitman also reiterated that she expects HP's revenues to grow in line with gross domestic product over the long term. Unfortunately, that almost implies the death of real growth even if she inherited a really bad situation.

AllThingsD gave a live blogging update of this event, and we would say that we would have to feel incredibly sorry for whomever drew that unlucky straw to cover the event. All we really care about now is the dividend safety, and the stock reaction seems to be in support of that thought. HP's $0.58 dividend is only about 20% or so of that net (GAAP) income figure on the low-end of the range, leaving much improvement to the 2.8% dividend yield in the future.

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So we look for HP to deliver more than $0.58 per share annually ahead. We will not call for H-P to double its dividend when it is buying back stock, paying down net debt, and having serious restructuring costs. That being said, we would not be shocked if that yield jumps up to 3.5% or so in 2014.

If you want to know why such a dividend is likely, consider that Apple Inc. (AAPL) is still stealing thunder from HP and Dell Inc. (DELL). Apple is much better off and yields 2.5% for its common stock dividend. Who is taking the charge of attention in technology, even after both companies are not what they used to be? That would be Apple.

And back to Dell Inc. (DELL). Its yield based upon the merger close out was about 2.3%. Now Dell will not have the hundreds of thousands (or maybe tens of thousands) of shareholders who feel like they have to be loyal to support their stock. H-P at least has that shareholder loyalty, in theory.

HP shares were up almost 6% at $21.98 after the guidance alerts were given earlier at the analyst day.

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