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HP sinks as investors flee business revamp

File photograph of HP Invent logo pictured in front of Hewlett-Packard international offices in Meyrin near Geneva
File photograph of HP Invent logo pictured in front of Hewlett-Packard international offices in Meyrin near Geneva

By Sinead Carew and Sayantani Ghosh

NEW YORK/BANGALORE (Reuters) - Shares of Hewlett-Packard slumped by more than 20 percent to a six-year low on Friday as investors wiped about $16 billion off the market value of the world's biggest PC maker in a resounding rejection of its plan for a major shake-up.

Investors also appeared to lose confidence in Chief Executive Leo Apotheker after a flurry of HP announcements on Thursday including an $11.7 billion acquisition offer, a shuttering of its mobile efforts and the potential spin-off its PC business.

This was on top of disappointing financial guidance for the third quarter in a row. HP may also be risking future PC sales as its customers could flee to rivals like Dell Inc in the uncertainty, one analyst said.

"They're doing too many things at the same time," said Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu.

Even if it makes sense in the long term, HP should not have told the world it was thinking of getting rid of its PC business, which brings in 16 percent of its profits, Wu said.

"Why would anybody want to do business with them if it's up for sale," he said. "To have this in limbo for 12 months is going to be pretty material."

On top of this, investors worried that HP's offer of nearly $12 billion for British software company Autonomy Corp was too high and questioned why it was giving up so soon on the mobile business it bought for $1.2 billion from Palm Inc, Wu said.

HP shares fell as low as $22.76 on Friday making it the biggest loser on the New York Stock Exchange. Before the announcements its shares had closed at $31.39 on Wednesday. Investors fled to rivals like Dell, pushing its shares up nearly 3 percent, as it is expected to profit from HP's chaos.

"There's not a lot of confidence in (Apotheker's) management," said Wu, noting that he had to lower guidance every quarter since he joined HP. "This is just further proof,"

At least two brokerages downgraded Palo Alto, California-based HP, and five cut their price targets, mainly citing uncertainty and expenses related to the restructuring.

"Last night HP may have eroded what remained of Wall Street's confidence in the company and its strategy," Needham & Co said in a research note.

Gleacher & Co analyst Brian Marshall cut his price target for the stock to $39 from $50 saying he "materially underestimated the magnitude and timing of this metamorphosis."

He said however that HP "is undergoing a sound strategy transformation by focusing on high-growth, high-margin opportunities in the enterprise/commercial markets."

With a forward 12-month price-to-earnings ratio of 5.6, the company is trailing its peers, including Dell, Apple and IBM according to Starmine SmartEstimate.

Before Thursday's news HP's stock had already lost nearly a fifth of its value since it reported quarterly results in May.

HP said it has already stopped production of its WebOS-based devices like its TouchPad tablet, which failed to attract buyers.

Cypress Semiconductor Corp -- the main supplier of touch controllers for TouchPad -- will also hurt if the company pulls the plug on the product, brokerage Collins Stewart said.

Cypress' shares fell 1 percent to $16.93 on Friday.

HP has been struggling with its once hugely popular PC business, as niftier gadgets like Apple's iPad have eaten into its business.

Thursday's weak forecast follows smaller rival Dell's lowered revenue outlook earlier this week that dragged down both stocks.

Both companies have been venturing out of traditional comfort zones and into enterprise solutions and services, but continuing soft sales have been a constant source of trouble.

Brokerage Robert W. Baird said HP is no longer a "safe haven" stock and expects it to lose market share.

HP's decision to spin off the PC business reflects commoditization, as consumers change the use of computers, and this may hurt Intel, the world's largest supplier of PC chips, brokerage Nomura said in a note.

"A reversal in average selling prices would remove a key revenue driver over the last six quarters (for Intel)."

(Additional reporting by Rachel Chitra in Bangalore; Editing

by Don Sebastian, Joyjeet Das, Dave Zimmerman)

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