Thu, Feb 07, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Dell buyout deal points to PC sector woes: analysts

TOUGH ROAD AHEAD:Going private would ease shareholder pressure on Dell, but reinventing the company would be tough given a faltering PC market

AFP, Washington

Dell Inc CEO Michael Dell applauds after a speaker’s address, while taking part in an interactive session organized by the Confederation of Indian Industries in Bangalore, India, on Jan. 9 last year.

Photo: AFP

Dell Inc’s plan to take the computer giant private offers an opportunity to return to its start-up roots, but is unlikely to solve the fundamental problems facing the company and the PC sector, analysts said.

The Texas-based tech giant on Tuesday unveiled a US$24.4 billion buyout deal giving founder Michael Dell a chance to reshape the former No. 1 PC maker away from the spotlight of Wall Street.

Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies, said that Dell’s plan underscores the deep problems of an industry roiled by a rapid shift to mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, and away from traditional PCs.

“It’s an illustration of how tough the PC business is, that Dell had to take this extreme step,” Kay said.

Kay said that without the pressure of meeting quarterly financial targets, Dell can focus on more profitable PC segments as it tries to reinvent itself as a services and software company.

“Michael has been trying to turn Dell into a supplier of enterprise solutions for a long time,” Kay said. “He has pleaded with Wall Street to give him time.”

Kay told reporters that going private would make a transition easier by avoiding the spotlight of “ugly results,” which could come from scaling back the PC business.

“The commodity PC business has been suffering,” Kay said. “Dell may probably keep the higher margin consumer lines, but maybe look at rest of the portfolio.”

Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu said Dell has a difficult task ahead.

“Despite the company’s strong efforts to transform itself ... we estimate that about 70 percent of its business is tied to PCs,” Wu said in a note to clients.

“On the positive, we believe going private takes the company out of the quarter-to-quarter grind of being a publicly traded company. But on the negative, not having publicly traded stock could make it more difficult to make larger, transformative acquisitions,” Wu said.

Wu said that as a private firm, Dell’s cash would be needed to pay equity investors and service debt.

“We are not sure going private improves the company’s fundamental position,” he said.

Darren Hayes, a Pace University computer science professor and former investment banker, said that by going private, “you’re not subject to a lot of regulation, you don’t have to answer to your shareholders, so maybe you can be more nimble in strategy.”

“Dell has struggled because of Apple [Inc] and Lenovo [Group (聯想)], so this might be a way to trim costs and regain some ground,” he added.

The computer maker once had a market capitalization of US$100 billion as the world’s biggest PC producer. It is now the No. 3 global PC maker, behind Hewlett-Packard Co (HP) and Lenovo, according to a recent report from market tracker IDC, showing Dell’s market share at 10.6 percent in the fourth quarter.

HP said in a statement that Dell “has a very tough road ahead” and “an extended period of uncertainty and transition that will not be good for its customers,” adding that HP “plans to take full advantage of that opportunity.”

China’s Lenovo said it would not comment on a competitor, but added that “we remain as always confident in our strategy, our ability to deliver compelling and innovative products and our overall position and performance.”

However, Rob Enderle, a tech analyst and consultant, said that the deal suggests “tighter coupling of Dell and Microsoft,” which is providing a US$2 billion loan toward the buyout.

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