Ahead of the Bell: HP to report fiscal 1Q progress

PALO ALTO, Calif. (AP) ? Hewlett-Packard Co. will update investors on its progress under CEO Meg Whitman Wednesday afternoon when the world’s largest personal computer maker releases its fiscal first-quarter earnings.

The results, due out shortly after the stock market closes, come a day after rival Dell Inc. announced a disappointing performance for the same October-January period. Dell’s problems stemmed from weakening sales to government agencies, consumers and the fallout from a shortage in hard-disk drives caused by massive flooding in Thailand last fall.

HP, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., has fallen out of favor with investors since it parted ways with former CEO Mark Hurd in an ethics scandal that erupted in August 2010. Hurd is now a top executive at Oracle Corp., which is competing against HP to sell high-end computers and technology consulting services to companies and government agencies.

HP shares, which closed Tuesday at $29.35, have fallen by 37 percent since Hurd’s departure.

Whitman replaced Hurd’s successor, Leo Apotheker, as CEO in September. She is best known for making a fortune as the CEO of online bazaar eBay Inc. and then spending more than $140 million of her own money on an unsuccessful bid to come California’s governor in 2010.

In her biggest decision so far, Whitman reaffirmed HP’s commitment to selling personal computers after Apotheker raised the possibility of spinning off or selling the business before HP fired him

While most analysts think Whitman made the right call, the PC industry isn’t healthy right now. That’s largely because selling new computers is becoming increasingly difficult as more consumers embrace smartphones and computer tablets such as Apple Inc.’s iPad. Making the things even tougher, there was a shortage of hard disk drives ? a key PC component ? late last year after massive flooding closed factories in Thailand. A weakening economy in Europe and a strengthening dollar in the U.S. also undercut PC sales.

HP has been trying to boost its revenue by selling more high-end computers, software and consulting services, but has had difficulty because of the fierce competition from Oracle and IBM Corp.

Analysts, on average, expect HP to report adjusted earnings of 87 cents per share on revenue of $30.7 billion.