Is Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) The Exception Or The Rule

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Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) turned in one of the best performances of the earnings season. Net income rose 38%. Revenue rose 13% to $28.5 billion. The computer company raised guidance and its shares moved up 5%.

HP is probably the best tech bell-weather in the US. It not only sells PCs and printers, it has a large software and server operation. It has tremendous businesses outside the US, especially in Asia.

Shipments from the company’s PC operations were up 27% in the quarter. That has to be good news for chip companies AMD (NYSE: AMD) and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC). Because HP is No.1 in global PC market share, it is also likely a boost for sales of Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Vista.

Growth in the company’s server business was up 11%. That should be a positive for IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Sun NASDAQ: (JAVA). Improvements in the company’s outsourcing business should be a signal that firms like EDS (NYSE: EDS) are doing well.

But, the news from HP begs a question. Is it doing well because of its size and better management, or does it simply show that the trend in tech spending is still strong. The turnaround at HP under CEO Mark Hurd cannot be matched by any other big company in the sector. There has certainly been no evidence that Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) has been helped by HP’s PC performance.

In the server sector, Sun is still extremely weak and its sales move up at about only 1% or 2% a quarter. EDS trades near a 52-week low. Wall St. is not seeing a recovery there.

Size matters. Part of HP’s success almost certainly comes from the scale of its business.

But, management may matter more  Just three years ago, HP was a mess and could not have posted these kind of numbers.

HP is an exception. It has the best management in its industry.

Douglas A. McIntyre