2. HP Charges Ahead (Originally published August 10, 2012)
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) is once again leading the charge in Silicon Valley.
Charge-offs, that is.The once-proud printer company announced Wednesday its plan to take a colossal $8 billion charge against its earnings when it reports third-quarter results Aug. 22, leading to a record loss of nearly $9 billion. The charge is due to a writedown of the value of its service business, definitively proving that the company overpaid when it picked up Electronic Data Systems in 2008 for $14 billion. HP has only posted one quarterly loss in the past 15 years for those keeping score. And for those more comfortable speaking in acronyms: EDS is no IBM (IBM) so Q3 at HP is DOA. Sorry about that. Sometimes all this dumbness just gets us giddy. Anyway, Hewlett-Packard picked up EDS in order to transform itself from a printer maker into an information-technology company, just like IBM did so successfully. Too bad it couldn't make the change, as the division has seen flat revenue and declining profits for the past two years. Nor could it make the change to a PC or mobile-device company. Last quarter HP announced it was writing off $1.2 billion from the value of the Compaq brand name. HP purchased Compaq in 2002 for $25 billion. And, as for that $1.2 billion Palm purchase in 2010, well, we haven't gone through all the footnotes yet, but it's safe to say HP's accountants probably palmed that one off somewhere along the line. And if they haven't, then stay tuned. Yep, it sure is sad when goodwill goes bad. And it's even sadder when an American corporate icon like HP undergoes a massively expensive -- and very public -- identity crisis. Shares of the company have lost a quarter of their value this year and almost 15% since Meg Whitman took the CEO reins from Leo Apotheker last September. Which brings us to the British company Autonomy, which Apotheker acquired for $10.6 billion in cash with the goal of turning HP into a software giant. In May, Whitman told analysts on HP's quarterly earnings call that she was still optimistic about Autonomy's future despite its "significant decline" in annual revenue. Hopefully we will hear better things about Autonomy from Whitman when HP reports later this month. But even if they can't turn things around, it's no biggie. If they can't make a change, they can always take a charge. Until, of course, they can't.