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What makes for a run-up

HP's third fiscal quarter closes in less than a week, and the company can point to a stock run-up of almost 50 percent in share price over the last 12 months. It's been a rate of rise to take pride in, at least among HP's employees and officers and the most loyal of customers. Like those who are staying with HP as they make their transition from the 3000. Choosing HP's Unix or HP servers is no slam-dunk sale for your vendor.

But even that performance is being out-paced by Apple today. The company dropped the "Computer" from its name last year, even though its Macintosh systems now rank at Number 4 in the US PC market share. HP often reminds us of its Number 1 ranking in servers of all kinds. PCs, of course, represent so many more computers.

Today Apple announced its quarterly earnings (profits up 73 percent) with news about the opening four weeks of sales of its iPhone. To some eyes, the iPhone is Apple's latest Mac. On this evening, the computer line that isn't Windows-based — but runs Windows alongside Apple's Unix, OS X — is sold by a company capitalized at $129 billion. HP's market cap is $118 billion today. Profit per employee is $45,000 at HP, and $173,000 at Apple.

And Apple's stock run-up? 124 percent per share in the last year, not counting the $13-a-share bump tonight on the iPhone news.

How Apple spins its profit from so few employees might be a trick only a BMW-grade company can perform. But HP can tout its Number 1 status in the whole of the industry. Getting to Number 1 obviously takes a lot more headcount. That musters the clout to deliver HP's Monday salvo, when Hewlett-Packard offered $1.6 billion to buy data center automation software company Opsware.

HP is offering $14.25 per share in cash for Opsware, a 38.6 percent premium over Opsware’s recent closing price. HP said it will fold Opsware into HP’s software business after the deal closes, another sheaf in your vendor's business technology optimization software portfolio.

Apple's release didn't say how many iPhones it sold during the product's first days. But the company reported it sold a total of 270,000 iPhones and related accessories, a number smaller than estimated by at least one-half. The markets didn't care, counting on Apple's forecast to sell one million iPhones by the end of the current quarter. CEO Steve Jobs said, "iPhone is off to a great start... and our new product pipeline is very strong."  Tonight after hours, Apple's stock is trading at about $150 per share.

Apple shipped more than five iPods for every Macintosh it sold this quarter. It would be interesting to have HP report how many printers it sold for every server this quarter, or maybe HP's combination of servers and PCs. These non-business-customer product successes produce the vaunted "halo effect" for a company's brand.

HP pursued the consumer segment hard, even with Apple's products rebranded, to little avail in Carly Fiorina's era. CEO Mark Hurd means to focus your vendor more on computing, even though the printer group provides the most profit of any HP business.

Expect the HP Q3 results to appear, as usual, in mid-August.