Apple Inc. (AAPL) to Buy Dell Inc. (DELL)? Have Stranger Things Really Happened?

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Just two weeks after Michael Dell and a group of investors decided it was time to take the company private for $24.4 billion, Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) took the stage Tuesday with Q4 earnings on the agenda to show what it was made of. Amid much turmoil, the company needed to validate some recent decisions. Not the least of which was that not only was privatization the company’s best recourse long-term, but also the tendered amount was not the “low-ball” variety that many shareholders insist it is.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Instead, what the company’s numbers actually revealed was that $24.4 billion just might be too much. While I think investors should take this money — which is almost a 40% premium — and run, many are hoping that a better offer will soon come. Surprisingly, there is now talk that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) should jump into the picture. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Here are the realities. Q4 revenue arrived at $14.3 billion, down 11% year over year. To Dell’s credit, this was enough to beat Street estimates of $14.1 billion. Likewise, the company posted net income of $530 million, or $0.30 per share. While this is down 30% year over year, when excluding charges such as acquisition costs and severance packages, earnings were actually $0.40 per share — enough to top Street estimates by $0.01.

Indeed, it now makes for a nice feel-good story that the company beat on both the top and bottom lines. But wait, we know better. At least, by now we should. Over the past couple of months, analysts have rushed to cut estimates. And management didn’t guide as if it expects this to be a sustaining trend. Besides, net income has been sliding by an annual rate of almost 30%.

The company, which relies on PC sales for 70% of its revenue, still struggles to find its footing in the wave of mobile devices. Despite Dell’s many futile attempts in mobile, shares are now trading $0.20 higher than the $13.65 buyout offer. That suggests investors still believe that things will get better, possibly even including the idea that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) should realize all of this hidden value and make a bid for Dell. In a recent Forbes article, which described Dell as a “second-rate International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM),” contributor Greg Satell presented the following case: “With [Dell’s] paltry R&D spending, it seems a stretch that [Dell] could match Big Blue’s efforts, or those of Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) for that matter, both of whom are also pursuing big data and artificial intelligence aggressively.”

First, it depends on one’s definition of the word “aggressively.” In the realm of big data, that word does not depict IBM, which has been losing market share each quarter. In fact, I’ve recently argued that one of IBM’s biggest challenges is that the company has not made enough investments in that area, which has led to three consecutive quarters of deteriorating sales, including a 5% drop in big data revenue.

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