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Hewlett-Packard's Still Out of the Game

Stocks in this article: HPQINTCMSFTCSCOAAPL

I expect HP investors will disagree. I also anticipate I will get more flak for this. But before you send in your irate emails, stop for a second and realize that as you applauded the 4% revenue beat of $29.1 billion, this still represent a year-over-year decline of 3%.

I will grant that the 73 cents per share profit (on the basis of generally accepted accounting principles) was a significant improvement from the $3.49 per share loss reported last year. But let's not forget that last year's loss was the result of the embarrassing $8.8 billion writedown HP absorbed from the botched acquisition for Autonomy -- a deal for which HP still faces several lawsuits from shareholders suing the company for failure to conduct due diligence.

What's more, look at the non-GAAP basis, where fourth-quarter earnings did meet Street expectations at $1.10 per share. That, too, represented a year-over-year decline of 13%. And when you consider that cash flow from operations was down more than 30% year over year, I really don't see what there is to get excited about, especially when margins declined year over year by more than a full point (1.4%). Interestingly, though, even when there's a portion of the business that does well, it somehow turns into a disadvantage.

[Read: Yes, Apple's Still on Track for $600]

For instance, while HP continues to lead the PC market share (by shipments) at 27%, which more than doubles Apple's (AAPL) market position at 13%, HP's Personal Systems business still posted a 16% decline in profits. What this means is that HP is virtually giving away each PC it sells since that business generates only 3% operating margin.

Last but not least, despite my recent criticism of Meg Whitman, the one thing that I have always appreciated about her is that she has always been forthright about the company's situation. Unlike her predecessor, Whitman has never tried to make HP appear better than it really is.

However, while promising investors that it would take five years to turn around the company, Whitman also said that growth would return in year three. That's right around the corner. But following the recent conference call, she told analysts not to expect growth in 2014. Inexplicably, the stock jumped 9%.

And given that research firm Canalys projects that tablets will account for more than 50% of all PCs sold in the coming year, HP's deficit in personal devices will only loom larger, especially when margins are on the decline. All told, given the across-the-board revenue and profit declines, this was (at best) a quarter that was less bad than expected. Accordingly, I wouldn't jump on this stock right here.

At the time of publication, the author was long AAPL.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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