Personalities are more interesting to write about than widgets and, besides, the story line of someone riding in to save the day is more engaging than one about an organization benefiting from a bit of a run of luck, having gotten a considerable lift from little more than the misfortune of a competing organization.
So goes the coverage of
, including a big cover story from
" that has reverberated this entire shortened week.
There are two basic story lines the business media likes to trot out on H-P, and either one will get the savvy investor into long-term trouble. The first is that the changes put in place by controversial former CEO Carly Fiorina are responsible for H-P's accomplishments in the several years since she was thrown out of the corner office by the seat of the pants and scruff of the neck. The second media-driven theory is that her replacement, Mark Hurd, is the greatest manager since time immemorial and is the sole cause of H-P's good fortune.
Here's the problem (and this is coming from a guy who rarely has a bad word to say about Hurd): H-P has also benefited greatly from a force out of its direct control -- the continued unspooling of
, a major competitor.
Plain and simple, customers have been fleeing Dell, nervous about their product quality and customer service. Some have been switching to
and others migrating to H-P, which has been there waiting for them. Even the heralded return of Dell founder Michael a couple of years ago has, thus far, done little to stem the tide of consumer defections.
The last couple of years, their stocks' respective charts look like funhouse mirrors of each other and Dell, as
The Wall Street Journal
, is in the process of scrapping a portion of their turnaround strategy to start over. The
article refers to the pair of Dell and H-P's "reversal of fortune" without making the essential point that this was not chance, but, in large part, cause and effect.
In sum, Dell's demise has been -- as you might expect -- a lucky and fortunate turn of fate for H-P, no matter who is in charge.
At a certain level, Donald Duck would do.
That is making the point a touch strong. As The Business Press Maven said, Hurd displays a decent level of competency. He keeps costs under control, appears well-liked by the rank and file (unlike Fiorina) and has not blown his opportunity to capitalize on Dell's weakness.
Who knows if Donald Duck could have pulled it off quite as well?
But look at the big
story, which reads like an early Valentine to Hurd. And tell me if you see a single mention of how Dell's weakness has contributed directly to H-P's strength. Though it is not as interesting to mention as words making a paper hero out of Hurd, it is essential. Why? Well, at a certain level HP is only as good as Dell is bad. If Dell ever gets it together (and it looks like they are a long way off) they are bound to regain market share from H-P.
certainly knows Dell exists. They mention them a bunch of times -- in relation to their lesser earnings, greater valuation and differing strategies on owning manufacturing plants.
But a potential Dell revival is not even listed in the article's section on risks. We hear about currency fluctuations and debt, but no Dell. Even the current economic slowdown is interpreted as little more than an opportunity for H-P to grab market share -- market share H-P has,
does not mention, been handed by Dell as much as anything.
At the time of publication, Fuchs had no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this column.
Marek Fuchs was a stockbroker for Shearson Lehman Brothers and a money manager before becoming a journalist who wrote The New York Times' "County Lines" column for six years. He also did back-up beat coverage of The New York Knicks for the paper's Sports section for two seasons and covered other professional and collegiate sports. He has contributed frequently to many of the Times' other sections, including National, Metro, Escapes, Style, Real Estate, Arts & Leisure, Travel, Money & Business, Circuits and the Op-Ed Page. For his "Business Press Maven? column on how business and finance are covered by the media, Fuchs was named best business journalist critic in the nation by the Talking Biz website at The University of North Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fuchs is a frequent speaker on the business media, in venues ranging from National Public Radio to the annual conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. Fuchs appreciates your feedback;
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