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Will HP Enterprise Stock Fall to Pennies Without CEO Meg Whitman?

Bret Kenwell

Shares of Hewlett Packard Enterprise haven't done well this year, down almost 40% so far in 2017. But Wednesday won't make it any easier.

HP Enterprise stock is down another 8.1% to $12.97 in early Wednesday trading despite beating on earnings per share and revenue expectations in the most recent quarter. Adding some uncertainty to the landscape though is the fact that long-time HP chief executive Meg Whitman will be stepping down as CEO.

The move will happen Feb. 1, although Whitman will remain on the board. Whitman originally became CEO HP Inc. in September 2011, but that was before the company split into two separate businesses and Whitman stuck with HP Enterprise.

Investors are not reacting favorably to the news, although it could also be due to HP Enterprise's lower-than-expected earnings guidance for next quarter.

The timing of Whitman's departure could add uncertainty to the outlook of HP Enterprise, says Barclays analyst Mark Moskowitz. Particularly with Whitman previously saying there is "plenty of work left to be done." While the recent quarter was "decent," full-year guidance for 2018 is back-end loaded, leaving HP Enterprise a bit short of catalysts in the short term.

Moskowitz cut his price target to $13 from $14 as a result. With shares trading near those levels already, it implies about 1% downside from current levels. HP Enterprise does pay a dividend yield of roughly 2.25%, though.

UBS's Steven Milunovich was slightly more optimistic, at least in the fact the he maintained his neutral rating and $15 price target. Whitman's departure will be a "marketing negative" and the fundamentals for HP Enterprise remain mixed. Further, Dell and Cisco Systems are "better positioned to serve on-premises computing needs."

Like Moskowitz, the company's guidance appears back-end loaded and it's tough to find many bullish catalysts in the short term. Shares appear fairly valued near current levels, Milunovich said.

Despite the shoulder-shrugging "meh" quarter for HP Enterprises, there are some questions as to whether the downside is now limited.

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