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Is Dell Stealing Dell?

Michael Comeau

I've taken to confessing quite a bit via my writing so far this year. I've talked about my realization that I'm probably not that special and the dumb trading decisions I made throughout 2012.

Now I'm moving on to my brief stint with cybercrime back in 1993.

In those days, America Online (AOL) was the Internet provider for most people, but it was tremendously expensive. America Online charged by the hour, and I knew friends and families who were racking up $600+ monthly bills. My mother would have punched me in the face if such a bill showed up at our house, so through a friend, I obtained a piece of software called AOHell, which could trick the AOL system into creating a fake account.

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To some extent, AOL was what got non-nerds buying computers.

And the hot computer in those days was from then-Nasdaq (^IXIC) darling Dell (DELL).

Apple (AAPL) was strictly for graphic designers, desktop publishers, and assorted weirdos that seemed to derive their self-worth from the rarity of their computer choice.

Dell rode the back of the Internet boom and its ahead-of-its-time supply chain to financial glory. During that heady decade, the stock price rose an astounding 88,000%.

Since then, a variety of circumstances, including the death of the dot-com bubble, the resurrection of Apple, and a shift in spending toward mobile devices, have seemingly put Dell down for the count.

And this week, we learned that Dell -- a stock that made many millionaires -- may be coming to the end of its life as a public company after founder Michael Dell, along with a group of investors, is offering to take the company private at a price of $13.65 per share. That's a whopping 77% discount from the all-time high of $59.69 in March 2000.

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Some critics are arguing that Dell and his investors are about to take the company for a bargain-basement price that was only made possible by the company's poor management decisions over the past few years.

This is all a bit silly.

Here's how I think about the situation:

If you've owned Dell stock for years and didn't like the way things were going, 1) you should have been out a long time ago, and 2) the stock's up over 30% year-to-date, something that would not have happened without this bid for the company.

And maybe Dell and his crew are getting the company at a cheap price, but they won't have an easy go of it. The Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 8 PC cycle is getting off to a very, very slow start. In Q4 of 2009, PC sales rose 22% with the release of Windows 7, according to Gartner. But in Q4 of 2012, PC sales dropped 4.9%, following an 8.3% decline in Q3 when Windows 8 was released.

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Additionally, Dell doesn't have much going for it in the two electronics categories that matter -- and which happen to be disrupting its PC business -- smartphones and tablets.

So maybe they'll strike it rich, but there's an equal chance they'll strike out.

This is one of those times where a piece of merchandise is cheap for a very good reason.