HP: Undervalued and Preparing for Apple Assault

Richard Saintvilus

For many, the thinking is, since the market is presumed to be always right, why bother? But this is where investors often make the mistake of confusing "market sentiment" with "value" -- two entirely separate terms. One such stock is Hewlett-Packard(:HPQ) -- a stock that I think is currently undervalued by 60%.

As you shift in your seat by this suggestion, consider this: Although HP's stock has languished for the better part of the past three quarters, the company is now taking a new strategic direction that not only makes sense from the standpoint of its competitive leverage within the enterprise against rivals such as Cisco(:CSCO) and Dell(:DELL), but the company seeks to take a bite out of Apple(:AAPL) after having first taken a page out of its unified platform advantage.

From that standpoint, not only is HP poised for tremendous growth over the next four years, but it has also positioned itself to increase its profit margins in a relatively short period of time. That said, it will require a considerable amount of patience to realize this value, but the company has recently shown a focus that I have not seen for quite some time.

How is it going to happen?

In an attempt to reduce costs while also seeking to improve its ability to innovate and produce products that appeal to consumers, Hewlett-Packard recently decided to consolidate its two most profitable businesses -- of which combined for almost $65 billion in sales last year, or over half of the company's revenue. Though the company initially described it as creating "go to market synergies" and placing a huge bet on lowering its CAPEX, I couldn't help but to notice the similarities as well as advantages offered with Apple's famed "ecosystem."

This move will allow HP to design future builds with initiatives and focus not only on its existing products but more importantly how these new products will work together. One of the market advantages from which Apple benefits greatly has always been the ease of a unified system. By having now merged the two businesses, Hewlett-Packard may be able to capitalize on some market opportunities that may otherwise not have been available. The cost savings is one thing and the synergies between the divisions is another, but it's clear that the company wants better relationships and designs between its PCs and printers. But the question is -- will Wall Street buy it?

In the onset, it was a challenge to assess whether or not that the company has done a good enough job of convincing investors that a new HP is on the horizon, especially when considering the revolving door that has become the company's CEO post. The market is now taking a "wait and see" attitude toward HP and I think that's a fair approach as new CEO Meg Whitman has a tall task ahead of her in not only executing correctly, but also erasing these clouds of doubt that continue to plague the company for its past transgressions.

Its cloud initiative

Speaking of cloud, the company has what is called "Converged Infrastructure" or essentially taking everything that is in the enterprise and offering collaborating solutions in a way to meet business efficiency. It is no secret that there are a significant number of corporations today that deal with what I would consider unfavorable IT infrastructure -- where the primary drivers consist of aging hardware, legacy architecture and complicated networks. When you add the fact that there is usually a vital need to manage the volume of data traffic on the network, it then becomes a hassle. As with Cisco, Hewlett-Packard is now another company that I think is well positioned to capitalize on increased data demand.

Not only does HP offer solutions that meet the needs of the enterprise, but it has an added mobile advantage over Cisco from having acquired Palm several years ago and currently holds mobile patents. From that standpoint, one can argue that it now has the potential to match up pretty well with Apple since Apple does not have the network infrastructure advantage that HP has. This is what the company realizes and it's something that investors must consider when appraising future value -- particularly from a stock that has been beaten up to the degree of HP. And when you add the fact that the company first introduced its converge infrastructure two years ago, the company has an added advantage with its lead.

Windows 8 to the rescue!

Another reason to be bullish HP is the fact that the company is due to release its new line of Ultrabook machines in partnership with Intel (:INTC) that will be based on Microsoft's(:MSFT) Windows 8 platform. These are thin, light and powerful laptops that are not that far from Apple's popular MacBook Air.

HP is betting heavily on the success of this launch as a way to secure some market share from Apple and dispel notions of PC deaths. It is also hoping that Microsoft's release of Windows 8 generates an increase in sales of not only the Ultrabooks, but also its PCs as well as its TouchPad tablet, which it recently decided not to scrap.

The transition is never easy whenever there is a change in leadership. For that matter I think it is fair to say that Whitman has not exactly wooed Wall Street in the first couple of quarters with HP under her watch. However, what is clear is that she has a firm handle on what the company's strengths and weaknesses are by having placed the majority of her focus and attention on learning how HP's business operates. So the question now is -- where does the company go from here? Or more specifically, what's next?

Bottom line

By its recent moves, it is clear that HP has high expectations and wants to take Apple head-on. How successful it will be in that endeavor remains to be seen. But investors have to certainly feel a sense of excitement to see that the company is as ambitious as it has become. From an investment standpoint, there is no reason to not expect 20% upside in the near term. With a P/E of 8, the stock trades at a huge discount to its future potential and a price of $40 is not entirely out of the question over the next 24 - 36 months. That said, investors must not make the mistake of expecting an immediate turnaround. This is going to take some time to realize.