SAN FRANCISCO --
CEO Mark Hurd loves to talk about all the great things the company is doing to streamline operations and boost profit margins.
But his audience will have other matters on their minds when H-P delivers its quarterly earnings results after Monday's market close.
The real focus will be on H-P's view of business trends and capital spending, particularly among the corporations that buy its servers, printers and other technology products.
In a market fraught with high energy prices and recession angst, the health of tech spending is paramount to the fortunes of H-P and its fellow tech companies.
As the world's No.1 technology firm, with a revenue run rate above $100 billion, H-P is one of the best barometers for the sector, and Wall Street will be paying close attention to the company's comments.
"H-P will set the tone for tech tape for rest of the year," says Pacific Crest Securities analyst Brent Bracelin.
Last week, tech investors got a scare when networking equipment maker
warned of "lumpy" spending on technology among U.S. companies in the months ahead.
"H-P will give us a better read of whether this is more specific to the networking vertical, or more broad-based in that it's going to impact PC spending and storage spending," says Bracelin.
Cisco also pointed the finger at financial institutions, which are cutting back IT spending as they retrench in the wake of massive write-offs of mortgage-backed securities. Given that the financial sector accounts for 18% of overall corporate spending on technology according to Deutsche Bank, Cisco may not be the only technology company at risk.
Fortunately for H-P, it is less exposed to customers in the financial sector than some of its peers such as
( JAVAD), according to Deutsche Bank.
Of course, the real risk is that an economic downturn spreads the problem beyond financial firms and causes other types of businesses to reduce capital spending as well.
Because this is H-P's fiscal fourth quarter, the company will offer investors some important insight on that score in its financial outlook.
Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expect H-P's revenue in the coming fiscal year to increase 5.9% to $109.5 billion, from the $103.3 billion expected this year.
Shares of H-P, which closed Friday's regular session at $50.75, are up roughly 20% since the start of the year.
In its recently ended fiscal fourth quarter, H-P is likely to turn in another batch of strong results.
PC sales have been strong, thanks to demand for notebooks and among consumers in overseas markets. According to industry research firm IDC, unit shipments of PCs increased 15.5% year-over-year in the period between July and September.
H-P retained its spot as the world's No.1 PC vendor during the quarter, with a 19.6% share, according to IDC.
H-P projected that fiscal fourth-quarter sales will range between $27 billion and $27.2 billion with 80 to 81 cents in EPS, excluding a 5-cent amortization charge.
Wall Street's consensus estimate is already above that, forecasting $27.4 billion in sales and 82 cents in EPS.
One reason for the expected earnings upside is memory prices. In delivering its guidance three months ago, H-P said rock-bottom computer memory prices were not sustainable, noting that DRAM prices were already on the rise.
That pickup didn't last long, however, and since then DRAM prices have only gotten pounded down further. That may benefit H-P's PC group operating margin, which stood at an impressive 5.8% in the fiscal third quarter.
Good news for H-P. But in this market, it's of only secondary concern to Wall Street.