So you were surprised? After all the times I've written here that 1999 is going to be a progressively worse and worse year for the big PC makers, as Corporate America diverts funds from PC purchases to remediation of Y2K problems? And after so many other voices joined in, repeating the same song?
, I mean. About guiding analysts to a 31-cent per share earnings estimate, according to
... then a week after the quarter is over, preannouncing to a handful of visiting-tourist analysts that
, earnings are actually going to be less than half that.
Of course you were surprised. Me, too, though more about the size of the shortfall than about its timing, or about Compaq's general health. I've been a Compaq bear for months, worrying that CPQ's combination of problems would bring it down by mid-year, notwithstanding that brief, spiky run-up to almost 50.
What really worries me here, though, is less the near-term future of CPQ than the ripple effect. I'm not going to worry about a company that has shown itself to be so inept that a month before the end of its quarter it didn't know its earnings were going to come in at less than half the Street's expectations -- or thought it could get away with waiting so long to speak up.
Think of the Compaq bombshell late Friday as a pebble thrown into a pond. The first ripple moving out from the ker-plunk consists of the impact on Compaq's peers:
. All are now in the same boat with CPQ: All are in for bloody days Monday and the rest of the coming week.
The next ring out consists of the major suppliers to the PC makers:
. With such clear evidence that PC unit sales are falling, what happens to these companies, which rely on selling one of their whatevers in every PC sold? You know the answer: They're gonna get whacked this coming week.
Still moving out from the center, the next ring consists of those broader-industry suppliers, like
, which I am long, whose health rises and falls with the PC business as a whole. Clearly SLR and its peers aren't going to be building as many PCs for client companies, when sales are headed south.
And the next, and last, ring consists of the distribution chain, in a broad sense: the distributors, "channel-partner assemblers," retailers, and other resellers (think
, for example, or
, which just aren't going to move so many boxes in a tightening market. This isn't going to be a pretty week for them, either.
As the largest PC maker, Compaq's problems appear under a magnifying glass. CPQ's probably in worse shape, relatively speaking, than many of its competitors -- for example, Dell -- but that is, to borrow a phrase, part of the price of leadership.
Corporations' slowing purchases, combined with Compaq's poor management, poor inventory management, poor channel management, and -- obviously! -- poor financial management, and you have a blow-up that is going to hurt a lot of more-or-less-innocent bystanders.
Bloody week ahead for the PC makers. I wouldn't want my money in the same
with any of them this week -- or, probably, this quarter or this year.
Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, Seymour was long Solectron, although positions can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are consulting clients of Seymour Group, or have been in recent years. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at