Dell: Setting Up for a Fall

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Last week, Dell ( DELL) stock dropped below the $13 level as investors position themselves for the increased likelihood that Michael Dell's proposal to purchase the company for $13.65 per share will not be met with approval.

This price activity is telling, given that the lows created an almost 7% discount relative to Michael Dell's proposed price. Declines have been driven by reports that Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners have no intention of saving the buyout by raising their bid for the company, in an effort to appease those opposing the deal (Southern Asset Management and Carl Icahn), who suggest that the appropriate value is closer to the $22-per-share mark.

Even with these higher numbers, limited valuations were given to the company's weakening PC business. But Icahn's proposals have had trouble gaining traction as well. At the moment, it appears unlikely his plans will gain the shareholder support needed to pass his counter-proposals.

This, of course, creates a significant element of uncertainty, and makes new long positions in DELL a high-risk investment. For shareholders, any lack of resolution between Icahn and Dell will mean that the company will be in need of a new strategic direction, and this will likely lead to downside revisions in analyst projections for the stock.

Recent Earnings Weakness

Recent earnings weakness adds to the bleaker outlook, as Dell has sacrificed profit margins in an attempt to support its PC division. This has led to arguments that Michael Dell has little incentive to produce strong results, given his aims to purchase the company at a reduced price. Before the end of this week we should have clearer evidence of whether or not we will see a see a bigger offer by Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners before the July 18 vote.

Shareholders will likely need to see something in the neighborhood of $15 a share in order to gain approval. Without this, we could see the stock fall back to where it was before Michael Dell and Silver Lake offered to take the company private. For a frame of reference, Dell stock found a bottom below the $9 level toward the end of 2012, so something in this region could be seen again if no substantive agreements are reached.

Most of the upside seen in Dell stock in early 2013 came as a result of announcements related to the original buyout offers. But the outlook for PC markets continues to be revised lower by industry analysts, and the company has shown obvious weakness when compared to competitors such as Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) when viewed from a fundamental perspective. If we remove from the equation what can be considered an "artificial" catalyst, those early-year rallies start to look vulnerable.

The Icahn Effect

Bullish valuations from Icahn and Co. have complicated the outlook for investors, in an attempt to give markets a reason to believe the stock is in a position to see major runs higher. The immediate question for those holding the stock is whether or not Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners will move toward a compromise.

At this stage, there are clearly opposing views about how the company should proceed. If we see no resolution, all it will mean is the company is set to traverse a rocky path going forward.

DELL stock continues to trade below both Michael Dell's offering of $13.65 and Carl Icahn's tender offer of $14. This is because markets currently see no reason to believe that either of these proposals will meet majority approval.

For new investors considering purchases of Dell stock, this should signal major red flags. For risk-averse investors holding the stock, this means it's time to look for new opportunities elsewhere.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Cox is a university teacher in international trade and finance, focusing primarily on macroeconomics and price behavior in equity markets. His articles appear on a variety of websites, including MarketBulls.net, Seeking Alpha, FX Street, and others. Investing strategies are based on technical and fundamental analysis of all the major asset classes (stock indices, currencies, and commodities). Trade ideas are generally based on time horizons of one to six months.

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