SAN JOSE, Calif. – Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) shares rose more than 3 percent in early trading on Friday, after the company reported a drop in fourth-quarter earnings that still came in higher than Wall Street estimates.
Late on Thursday, HP posted fiscal fourth-quarter sales that jumped 7 percent, but net earnings that fell 62 percent after the computer and printer company took a $1.1 billion charge for a restructuring first announced in July.
Still, the results Thursday firmly beat Wall Street expectations as all its divisions — from personal computers and printers to enterprise servers, software and services — reported gains in sales. HP also boosted its earnings forecast for the first quarter.
For the period ending Oct. 31, HP earned $416 million, or 14 cents per share, compared with a profit of $1.091 billion, or 37 cents per share, in the same period last year. Sales increased 7 percent, to $22.9 billion from $21.4 billion.
Excluding special items, primarily related to the previously announced restructuring, the company earned $1.5 billion, or 51 cents per share, compared with $1.2 billion, or 41 cents per share, in the same period last year.
On that basis, the results beat Wall Street expectations. Analysts were expecting the Palo Alto-based company to earn 46 cents on sales of $22.78 billion, according to a survey by Thomson Financial.
HP also said it expects first-quarter earnings per share in the range of 46 cents to 48 cents per share, excluding 3 cents to 4 cents for expensing stock options, and sales of between $22.3 billion to $22.6 billion, said Bob Wayman, HP's chief financial officer.
Analysts were expecting the company to earn 44 cents per share on sales of $22.57 billion, according to Thomson Financial.
"HP delivered another strong quarterly performance, with balanced revenue growth, good cost discipline, improved margins in key businesses and strong cash flow," said Mark Hurd, HP's CEO. "We are pleased with our progress to date, but there is more work ahead of us."
Shaw Wu, an analyst at American Technology Research, said the fourth-quarter results were strong, but he said the revenue forecast is troubling.
"It tells you the organic growth of the company is not that strong — it's kind of weak," he said. "Most of the growth is coming from cost cutting."
The latest results are seen as a sign of further progress by Hurd, the former NCR executive who replaced ousted HP CEO Carly Fiorina in late March. Hurd undid several of Fiorina's controversial moves and announced plans to cut 14,500 jobs in the restructuring that would save $1.9 billion a year and bring costs in line with HP's competitors.
On Thursday, he said the company executed on its plans in the fourth quarter and, as a result, the number of job to be cut now totals 15,300. About 4,700 workers left the company in the fourth quarter as part of the restructuring.
As HP's results have improved, there have been fewer calls to split up the sprawling technology company. Critics have suggested that HP get out of the low-margin PC business, an industry that is dominated by Dell Inc. (DELL) and its manufacturing efficiency.
Lately, though, Dell has been stumbling. In the most recent quarter, it missed analysts' earnings targets by $300 million and its record sales of $13.9 billion fell short of its own forecast of between $14.1 billion and $14.5 billion.
On Thursday, HP's Personal Systems Group, which includes PCs, saw revenue grow by 9 percent to $7.1 billion and shipments jumped 13 percent. The division reported an operating profit of $200 million.
Hurd declined to discuss Dell.
"We just tried to build a plan and execute to that plan," he said.
Cindy Shaw, a Moors & Cabot Capital Markets analyst who follows both companies, said Dell has lost its advantage in price as PC prices decline. It also faces stiffer competition in terms of service and support.
"The magic is gone — Dell is slogging it out with everyone else, and HP is getting better," she said.
HP's printer division, which often bolstered the company's results in the past, saw overall revenue grow to $6.8 billion — an increase of just 4 percent over last year. Consumer hardware revenue slipped 4 percent, but shipments increased 6 percent.
Commercial hardware revenue, however, increased 4 percent, and shipments jumped 16 percent. The Imaging and Printing Group's total operating was $896 million, down from $1.1 billion in the prior year.
Other divisions also reported gains in sales and profits. The group responsible for business servers saw sales jump 10 percent to $4.5 billion, while HP Services reported a 6 percent gain to $3.9 billion. Software sales were $311 million, an 11 percent increase — and the group reported its first operating profit — $27 million.
For the year, HP reported a profit of $2.4 billion, or 82 cents per share, compared with $3.5 billion, or $1.15 per share. Sales increased 8.8 percent, to $86.7 billion from $79.9 billion last year.