NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Lackluster performance from computer makers Dell (DELL) - Get Report and HP (HPQ) - Get Report this summer should leave investors rebooting. While all hardware makers are circling the drain; Apple's (AAPL) - Get Report recent price decline stands out as a buying opportunity.
I don't understand the fascination with Meg Whitman. Has Whitman turned around a large company before? Isn't this her first attempt to take a major corporation under duress and turn it into a market leader? Yes, I know
investors made money as a result of Whitman; however, HP is a totally different ballgame.
Every conversation about HP's turnaround includes Whitman's success at eBay. My recollection of eBay during Whitman's tenure was of constant complaint from eBay sellers about leadership. While it's clear Whitman took a small headless company and turned it into a leader, the level of competition was relatively low. The single biggest factor in eBay's success is the critical mass of users it enjoys. The only real competition eBay faced came from
: Yahoo! was on the verge of becoming real competition for eBay when they dropped the ball. About 10 years ago a Web site tracked and charted the performance of the top three auction Web sites. For months, I monitored that site almost daily. Although in second-place, Yahoo! began to gain market share as eBay made life continuously more difficult for sellers.
Missing the Shot
: Based on sales and number of auctions reported, Yahoo! not only reached critical mass, but was growing at a faster rate than any other. At that point, after all Yahoo's efforts appeared on the verge of paying off, Yahoo! decided to commit one of the most nonsensical (up to that point anyway) business decisions possible. Yahoo! became greedy, and self-confident enough to raise seller fees before overtaking eBay. Auction volume quickly dried up and Yahoo! auctions turned into road kill.
Unfortunately for Yahoo! investors, Yahoo!'s management has demonstrated a lack of situational awareness several times since. The stock currently trades near $15.50, the same as 1998.
A Race of One is an Easy Win
: eBay went on to win the race and dominates the online auction space. A critical mass of buyers and sellers remains the greatest barrier of entry for other online sites and why eBay continues to dominate. Had it been Google instead of Yahoo! competing in the early days of online auctions, the story of Whitman's leadership prowess may have been different.
: After HP's second-quarter results with Whitman at the helm, the stock remains very near where it was at time of her takeover. The new stock price stabilization is anything but confidence building. Keep in mind HP fell off the edge after the board of directors played musical chairs with the CEO seat. If investors really do have confidence in management including the Board, HPQ should trade over $30 per share.
Not everyone agrees with my take on HP's situation.
James Rogers wrote a convincing article
about Whitman's role in preventing further losses.
Cheap Doesn't Mean Value
: If HP traded for the same multiple as Dell, Apple, Yahoo or even eBay, the stock would be over $30 per share. Short interest is low at 2% and HP pays a 2.4% dividend.
The market has voted, and the results are in; don't expect much one way or the other with HP. For anyone who bought into HP more than a year ago it's disappointing all around. As capacious and diverse HP is, investors should expect and receive more from management.
Staring at a Virtual Hourglass
: Dell's hardware focus worked for years; however, hardware commoditization requires a greater shift toward revenue generating services. Dell has not traded lower after last quarter's earnings report since September 2010.
With other attractive tech companies offering a dividend, it's difficult to make an argument for Dell, other than as a trading stock to buy on dips and sell on a gain of a few points. If Dell reports well in three months I will once again look for a buying opportunity; otherwise I won't hold my breath for a full recovery any time soon.
Catching Pennies From the Sky
: Apple's recent price retracement under $600 offers investors the best risk to reward ratio in this group of technology companies. Other than HP, Apple is the only other dividend stock here and Apple shines in the most relevant metrics.
How High Is High
: Apple trades near a single-digit price-to-earnings ratio while at the same time increasing revenue and earnings like a growth stock. Can Apple move up to $1000 per share?
valuations, Apple at $1,000 is a layup.
Apple is growing faster on top and bottom lines, cash flow is best, and Apple has domination capability in any space management decides to enter. The primary reason the price doesn't trade at higher multiples is the lack of stock splits.
Considering Tim Cook making positive changes including a stock dividend (with the board's approval), it's reasonable to believe Apple shares will appreciate into 2013 on their own, or a split will facilitate it. Either way count on Apple to top this list of stocks in performance into 2013.
At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.