The ever-rising costs of HP’s makeover

Contact: Brenon Daly

The bill for Hewlett-Packard’s makeover just keeps climbing. Even beyond the $10bn that has been erased from the market valuation of the company since announcing its unprecedented reorganization, the ailing giant is facing some real cost in the coming days.

For starters, it’s on the hook for $11.7bn to cover its pending purchase of information management vendor Autonomy Corp. That’s no small amount. In fact, it stands as the largest price paid for a software company in seven years. (And it’s one of the richest, valuing Autonomy at almost 12 times trailing sales, while HP itself currently trades at just 0.4x sales.) On top of that, there’s also the $1bn charge that’s looming for the shutdown and restructuring of the ill-fated webOS business.

But both of those costs are likely to be chump change compared to the losses that HP likely faces in getting rid of its Personal Systems Group (PSG) – assuming the company even finds a buyer for its desktop and laptop business. Recall that HP paid roughly $25bn in stock for Compaq, a consolidation move that made HP the largest single vendor of PCs. If it is able to sell that division now, we figure HP would be lucky to get about $5bn for it, or roughly one-fifth the amount it originally paid. (See our full report on HP and the rest of the PC industry.)

In calculating the potential purchase price for PSG – and this is strictly on a back-of-the-envelope basis – we looked back on what IBM got when it divested its PC business back in late 2004. Big Blue’s business was generating about $9bn in sales, and Lenovo paid just $1.75bn in cash and stock, plus the assumption of debt. HP’s PC business is slightly more than four times larger, so applying that loose multiple gets us into the neighborhood of $7bn.

However, a couple of factors will undoubtedly put some pressure on the multiple for HP. First, we would argue that IBM had a much more valuable brand with its ThinkPad line than the HP/Compaq brand. But far more important than those specific concerns around brands is the fact that the broader PC market has eroded significantly in the half-decade since Big Blue divested its business. To get a sense of just how far the PC market has fallen, consider the results from the most recent survey of consumers from our sister company, ChangeWave Research. Earlier this month, just 7% of respondents indicated that they expected to buy a laptop in the coming 90 days, with just 3.5% indicating that they planned to buy a desktop.