HP, Autonomy Acquisition: Is it Too Late Get Out?

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Plenty of people responded with shock at HP's announcement of a deal to buy Autonomy for 11 times the company's revenues when even HP admitted Autonomy's addressable market growth was just 8 percent. Is it too late to get out of the deal? One analyst answers the question.

HP’s (NYSE:HPQ)  announcements last month took industry players and its own shareholders by surprise, with many questioning the wisdom of HP’s plans to dump its tablet computer, buy Autonomy and potentially get rid of its PC business, too.

The concerns have led some to wonder if it’s possible for HP to get out of the deal with Autonomy. And shareholders are wondering what to do in the wake of all the uncertainty surrounding this tech giant. Bernstein Research recently answered that question with a new report highly critical of HP’s executive management and board.

"Based on our conversations with investors, it appears that the overwhelming majority of large HP shareholders remain opposed to the HP / Autonomy deal following their conversations with senior executives and the board," wrote Toni Sacconaghi, senior analyst with Bernstein Research in the report. "Following the Autonomy deal announcement, CEO Leo Apotheker was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying that 'he was hearing a lot of appreciation" from investors in one-on-one settings about his plans for the company.

"However, our conversations with investors continue to point to near universal opposition of the Autonomy acquisition…" pointing to the high price HP is paying – 11 times sales -- and the fact that HP has indicated it believes Autonomy’s addressable market growth is only about 8 percent.  To investors, that just doesn’t add up, and they are not buying the argument that the sum of the parts is worth more overall. At least not that much more.

The Bernstein report notes, however, that because HP is paying cash, it’s unlikely the tech giant can get out of completing the deal, even if shareholders are opposed. Many place the blame all the way up to the board of directors level of the company, since they are responsible for the ouster of former CEO Mark Hurd and the hiring of current CEO Leo Apotheker. The board also approved the Autonomy deal, and made the decision to pre-announce a possible spin off of the PC group before actually investigating the options for that.

While HP may not be able to get out of the Autonomy deal, activist shareholders could work to replace members of HP’s board, who only serve for one year terms, according to Sacconaghi,  which could precede a management change at the top as well.  Nominations for new directors must be received between Nov. 23, 2011 and Dec. 26, 2011 to be voted on during HP’s annual shareholder meeting in March.

 Meanwhile, in spite of their concerns, Bernstein notes that shareholders still find HP to be a good investment.



Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com