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Is Goldman Sachs Being Too Hard on Hewlett-Packard?

Jon C. Ogg

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) is really hard to get excited about. The PC and tech services giant seems to be caught between a rock and a hard place, but the stock price is indicating something far better (or less bad) than so much of the Wall street sentiment. When Goldman Sachs reiterated a Sell rating after earnings, some investors just have to wonder if the brokerage giant is simply being too hard on Meg Whitman and H-P's turnaround prospects.

Goldman Sachs's "Sell" rating is the worst of its brokerage firm peers on Wall Street. It turns out that the $21.00 price target is the lowest of all analysts according to Thomson Reuters. For a firm like Goldman Sachs, which only caters to very wealthy investors and institutions, we have to wonder if there is more to this call than meets they eye. Or if the firm is simply just wrong.

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Hewlett-Packard shares did close down 1.3% at $29.79 on Friday, which signals not a very strong post-earnings reaction. Still, this is not bad for an earnings reaction when you consider that Meg Whitman said the turnaround may not yield growth until 2016.

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H-P reported that its earnings per share was $0.90 for the last quarter, handily beating the Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of $0.84. Its $28.2 billion in quarterly revenue also beat the consensus estimate of $27.19 billion.

When we consider the Goldman Sachs call, we have to consider that in early April 2013 Goldman Sachs had cut the rating to "Sell" with a $16 price target. Shares were closer to $22 back then, versus $29.79 now.

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It is really hard to get excited about H-P right now. After all, neither of its core markets are in great shape. Investing in 2013 and in early 2014 for a 2016 to 2017 story doesn't exactly sound that ambitious in a bull market either. Yet the stock signals something different. The Friday close was up 50% from its 52-week low, and the stock is down only about 2% from its 52-week high.

The consensus analyst target price is closer to $32 as now. We have a hard time grasping any great prospects for turnaround investors today, at least if you consider that H-P's share price is almost triple off of its November 2012 low of $11.35. Yet the stock price is saying something else entirely - such as that H-P's prospects are simply not as bad as the coverage may suggest.

Goldman Sachs is a highly influential firm, and it certainly can move stocks with its endorsement. In this case, however, it just seems like Goldman Sachs is being far too critical of H-P. Even being booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average in September did not really harm the stock.

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