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Hewlett-Packard Company (HPQ), Dell Inc. (DELL), And How Research & Development Is Crucial to Think About

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Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)Recently, Jim Chanos, the most successful short seller, shared his views on the markets, his short positions, as well as his long positions. He commented that he did not care much about what the general market was doing, but he’d rather pay attention to individual positions.

Moreover, he did not short sell based on valuation. The reasons he shorted Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) and Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) were due to the overall weakening global PC industry and the R&D accounting that both companies have been using.

Very little R&D spending

Jim Chanos said that both Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) and Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) have spent very little on R&D. That was why both companies could report better earnings and free cash flow. Indeed, in 2012, Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) generated nearly $120.36 billion in revenue, but it spent only $3.4 billion on research & development. Thus, R&D expenses accounted for only 2.82% of total revenue.

It is the same case with Dell. In fiscal 2012, Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) had around $56.94 billion in revenue, but it poured only around $1 billion for research and development activities. Thus, its R&D expenses represented only 1.88% of the total revenue. In the past five years, Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ)’s R&D expense as a percentage of total revenue fluctuated in the range of 2.46% to 2.99%, while Dell’s R&D expense as a percentage of revenue stayed in the small range of 1.07% to 1.88%.

The adjusted FCF looks much uglier

According to Jim Chanos, both companies have not done R&D internally, but they have been “acquiring” R&D. Consequently, the acquisition went to acquisition item in the investing cash flow section of the cash flow statement, not capital expenditure item. That is why Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) and Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) have generated the consistent positive “free cash flow”.

FCF (USD million) 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Hewlett-Packard 11,601 9,684 7,789 8,100 6,865
Dell 1,454 3,539 3,525 4,852 2,770

However, if we factored in the acquisition amount, the free cash flow of both companies would be much worse.

Adjusted FCF (USD million) 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Hewlett-Packard 353 9,293 -188 -2,291 6,811
Dell 1,278 -74 3,149 2,290 -2,074

Normally, huge acquisitions don’t end so well. Hewlett-Packard’s adjusted FCF was the lowest in 2011 due to the huge amount of $10.3 billion it paid to acquire Autonomy. Fast forward only one year, Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ) had to write down as much as $8.8 billion on the Autonomy purchase, including $5 billion charges as a result of “serious accounting improprieties, disclosure failures and outright misrepresentation.”

Samsung is a pick for technology investors

In contrast, Samsung, the leading smartphone manufacturer, has been spending much larger amount on research and development. In the past five years, Samsung has consistently increased its R&D expenses, from 3.78 trillion Won ($3.4 billion) in 2008 to nearly 10.24 trillion Won ($9.21 billion). The R&D expense as a percentage of revenue has fluctuated in the range of 4.36% to 7.74%. In 2012, its R&D expenses accounted for around 7.25% of the total revenue.

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