Carly Fiorina's ouster yesterday as CEO may precipitate a breakup of Hewlett-Packard, which some analysts said could be worth 44 percent...
Carly Fiorina’s ouster yesterday as CEO may precipitate a breakup of Hewlett-Packard, which some analysts said could be worth 44 percent more in pieces than together.
The total value of Hewlett-Packard’s businesses after a spinoff of its printer unit, its most-profitable division, would rise to as much as $29 a share from yesterday’s closing price of $20.14, J.P. Morgan Securities’ Bill Shope said.
“The printer side is the gem,” said Patrick Becker Jr. in Portland at Becker Capital Management, which owns 941,000 Hewlett-Packard shares and manages $2.2 billion.
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Fiorina resisted a spinoff for five years, and the board discussed and discarded the idea three times. Former director Walter Hewlett, son of the co-founder, said yesterday board members should look again. At least nine investors and analysts agreed. The printer unit made up 68 percent of Hewlett-Packard’s profit in the most-recent quarter.
Fiorina argued that buying Compaq Computer would reduce the company’s reliance on printing. It hasn’t worked.
Printers account for almost all of the stock’s value today. Merrill Lynch analyst Steve Milunovich said the business is worth at least $19 or $20 a share on its own. Stockholder Kenneth Smith at Munder Capital Management put it at “around $20,” and David Katz at Matrix Asset Management put it as high as $22.
“There’s a conglomerate discount on the stock,” Milunovich said in an interview yesterday. Milunovich, in New York, is the No. 2 ranked computer analyst in an Institutional Investor survey and has been among the most vocal in calling for a spinoff. “Focus tends to result in better performance.”
In June, Milunovich said Hewlett-Packard should break up the company to separate the printing division. Walter Hewlett, who started a proxy fight trying to block the $18.9 billion Compaq acquisition, suggested a spinoff during the battle.
“It needs to be looked at very carefully, and it would be a wise strategy to pursue as far as investors and the company is concerned,” Hewlett said yesterday.
The board has no plans to break up the company, interim Chief Executive Officer Bob Wayman said on a conference call yesterday. Directors have “talked about the negative synergies that would be involved in splitting up the company.”
He said they have created models that will be “updated periodically” and a breakup is something “we and the board will continue to evaluate.”
Last June, Fiorina called the notion of a breakup “absurd.” Directors’ resistance “could change quickly with a new CEO and the likelihood that shareholder activism on the issue will increase significantly in coming months,” Shope wrote yesterday.
Milunovich said it may take 18 months for directors to move on a spinoff because they will be busy searching for a new CEO and getting the businesses in order.
Smith Barney’s Richard Gardner, the No. 3-ranked computer analyst, was one holdout. He called a spinoff “unlikely” and said separating the divisions doesn’t make sense.
Keeping all the product lines in one company helps limit costs, and increased competition with Dell in printers means that Hewlett-Packard’s printer business may not get much benefit from a spinoff, he said.
Hewlett-Packard last month combined its printer unit, the company’s most profitable business with a margin of about 16 percent in the most recent fiscal year, with the personal-computer business, which had a profit margin of less than 1 percent.
“The printing business is the way you realize the most value from the company,” said Munder’s Smith. His firm manages $37 billion and owns 2.9 million Hewlett-Packard shares. “I’d like to see management lay out a better plan to keep it together, to see how they’ll realize the value inherent in the printing business.”