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HP Earnings: Whitman Gets a B

PALO ALTO, Calif. (TheStreet) -- Cool, calm and collected are three words that have not been associated with HP (HPQ) over the last few months.

That may be starting to change after new CEO Meg Whitman gave a composed performance during her first quarterly conference call since taking over from the ousted Leo Apotheker.

HP beat Wall Street's revenue and profit estimates with its fourth-quarter results, released after market close on Monday, and gave muted guidance for fiscal 2012. Whitman's debut, however, is getting as much scrutiny as the company's numbers.

HP CEO Meg Whitman

Whereas her predecessor attempted to push through a controversial growth strategy, potentially carving off HP's vast PC business, Whitman struck a more measured tone during her first conference call.

The new CEO explained that HP must get "back to basics" in executing its core business fundamentals, admitting that the tech giant struggled in this area during fiscal 2011.

Whitman also vowed to increase the company's investment in R&D, a clear nod to critics who have urged the tech giant to ramp up its innovation engine.

HP boosted R&D spending by 10% in fiscal 2011, according to Whitman, who promised to increase the outlay again in the coming fiscal year.

Already, there have been some hints of HP's improving innovation story. Earlier this month, for example, HP became the first major server vendor to support low-power ARM (ARMH) chips. The company also launched the Folio recently, its first super-thin Ultrabook aimed at business users.

As expected, the former eBay (EBAY) chief, also reset earnings expectations for 2012, and skipped giving a revenue forecast on Monday, shrewdly shifting the focus back onto the firm's profits.

With investors still coming to terms with Apotheker's shock $10.3 billion acquisition of U.K. software maker Autonomy, Whitman also promised no major acquisitions during the coming year.

Overall, Whitman gets a strong 'B' for her performance on Monday, successfully positioning herself as a safe pair of hands who will not surprise shareholders, and, crucially, sees HP's shortcomings.

"We just need to get back to putting our heads down and get out of the news cycle and reduce the drama here," she explained, during the conference call, acknowledging the confusion that swirled around the company this summer. "There was a lot of drama in 2011."

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