Sat, Apr 13, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Investors shying away from PC, Microsoft stocks

CHANGING TIMES:PC sales took an historic hit in the first quarter as consumers and businesses turned to tablets and smartphones for their computing needs

AP, SAN FRANCISCO

If fewer people are interested in buying a new PC, then fewer investors want to own stakes in companies whose fortunes are tied to the sales of laptop and desktop machines.

That logic ruled on Thursday as Wall Street reacted to fresh evidence that PCs are turning into a dying breed of technology as consumers and businesses embrace smartphones and tablet computers as their preferred computing devices.

The stocks of PC software maker Microsoft Corp and PC maker Hewlett-Packard Co (HP) absorbed significant hits on the news that PCs suffered an unprecedented sales decline during the first three months of the year. Other firms connected to the PC industry, such as Intel Corp, also were affected, although not to the same degree as the industry bellwethers.

Microsoft’s stock fell US$1.35, or 4.4 percent, to close at US$28.93, while HP’s shed US$1.44, or 6.5 percent to finish at US$20.88. Intel shares decreased US$0.43, or nearly 2 percent, to US$21.83.

First-quarter shipments of PCs plummeted by 11 percent to 14 percent from a year earlier, according to separate estimates issued late on Wednesday by Gartner Inc and International Data Corp.

By either measure, it was biggest decrease recorded by either research firm since they began tracking PCs sales.

Count Sterne Agee’s Shaw Wu among the analysts worried about the future of Microsoft and its partners in the PC industry.

“We frankly believe [Microsoft’s] strategy of forcing user interface changes that nobody wants has proven to be a disaster,” Wu wrote in a Thursday research note.

Nomura Securities analyst Rick Sherlund also took a dimmer view of Microsoft’s future prospect as he lowered his recommendation on the company’s stock from a “buy” to “neutral.” In a Thursday note, Sherlund asserted that about half of all consumers now see little reason to buy a PC or any other device running on Windows.

Microsoft may try to lure back consumers by offering less expensive devices. It is now developing a smaller version of its Surface tablet to compete with similar-sized devices made by Apple Inc, Google Inc and Amazon.com Inc, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous people familiar with the matter.

A Surface tablet with a 7-inch screen could hit the market this year, the Journal said.

Microsoft declined to comment on Thursday.

HP, the world’s largest PC maker, has been suffering sales declines with the rest of the market. Its PC shipments plunged by 24 percent in the first quarter.

The company had been hoping to bounce back with the release of Windows 8. With those hopes dashed, HP is now making a laptop that runs on the Chrome operating system. CEO Meg Whitman is also trying to expand the company’s more profitable businesses, such as business software, data analysis and consulting.

Intel, whose chips are in 80 percent of the world’s personal computers but a laggard in mobile devices, is hoping to boost its revenue with a new line of microprocessors better suited for tablets and lightweight laptops.

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