Whitman Continues to Woo HP Investors

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- HP ( HPQ) CEO Meg Whitman pleased investors this week with comments that the beleaguered tech giant's turnaround is ahead of schedule.

In an interview with CNBC's Becky Quick on Wednesday, Whitman said that HP is "just a bit ahead of where we thought we would be." The CEO is 18 months into an ambitious five-year effort to revitalize HP.

Whitman also discussed her push to bolster the company's research and development efforts while focusing those efforts on the most important areas. Inadequate R&D has been an ongoing criticism of HP.

Investors certainly liked the news coming out of Sin City, pushing HP's shares up 2.76% to close at $24.91 during Wednesday trading; the stock slipped 0.64% in early Thursday trading. HP shares have climbed almost 16% over the last month.

Whitman had already described fiscal 2013 as "a fix and rebuild year," with "recovery and expansion," "acceleration," and "industry-leading competition" characterizing the years 2014 through 2016.

Despite facing a Herculean task, the former eBay ( EBAY) chief has won praise recently for her efforts, specifically her transformation of the company's balance sheet.

Keen to tap into fast-growing areas, Whitman also unveiled a host of big data initiatives in Vegas.

Big data, which is one of the hottest trends in tech, refers to the management of vast quantities of unstructured data, or information that is outside the realm of traditional databases. Examples include email messages, PowerPoint presentations, audio, video and social media information.

ISI Group analyst Brian Marshall acknowledged that HP's "fix and rebuild" efforts have been effective. "While we continue to believe 'recovery and expansion' next year may be more difficult than the company anticipates, HPQ has demonstrated substantial improvements in various point product portfolios," he wrote, in a note released on Wednesday.

Specifically, the analyst highlighted HP's HAVEn big data analytics products, its expanded 3Par storage offerings and its new "IT in a box" solution for SMBs. "In addition, the company is gradually seeing benefits from "nuts and bolts" organizational improvements," he added, pointing to sales force alignment, supply chain efficiencies, pricing discipline, and improved channel programs.

HP comfortably beat Wall Street's estimates in its second quarter last month, boosted by better-than-expected performance in Enterprise Services and Printing, as well as savings from restructuring and improved operations.

Marshall, however, warned that investors should not get too carried away, despite Whitman's progress. "In our view, HPQ has been making solid progress on its "fix and rebuild" process this year but a return to top-line growth and margin expansion next year will prove more difficult as higher-value segments (e.g., software and services) continue to face competitive pressure and PCs/Printing are secularly challenged."

During the second quarter, for example, revenue from HP's Personal Systems Group declined 20% from the prior year's quarter, underlining the challenges posed by PC market.

Marshall maintained his "neutral" rating on HP.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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