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HP predicts declining growth

Twice a year HP meets with financial analysts, out along the West Coast in the summer and back in New York during the winter. The cold climate of the Eastern seaboard might have ushered in cooler forecasts for HP's 2009 year. The company predicted that its coming fiscal periods will only match analysts' predictions. Revenue growth, HP reported, will be no more than 6 percent over whatever 2008 figures turn out to be.

The numbers still mean that HP intends to sell at least $117 billion of product and services during the fiscal year which begins on Oct. 31 of next year. But posting growth below 10 percent is what got the HP 3000 eliminated from Hewlett-Packard futures.

HP remains the world's largest company by revenue, if not by profits. However, a report released on the same day as HP's analyst meeting shows the company's PC business is grower at a slower rate than Apple's. What's more, Mac sales improvements are outpacing Dell's, just like HP's sales.

Growth is an critical issue to stock analysts, but it also drives a vendor's ability to invest in future technologies. At the moment the biggest investment HP is making in its own technology is Itanium processors — largely ignored by the rest of the computer marketplace — and its HP-UX Unix environment.

HP's desktop and laptop business has turned into a good generator of revenues, if not profits. But a study by ChangeWave Research reports that between 6 and 7 percent of companies buying laptops and desktops in 2008.

The study found that 7% of companies buying laptop computers in the first quarter of 2008, and 6% of companies buying desktop computers, plan to buy Apple Macintosh machines. Both numbers are the highest rates for Macs since ChangeWave began its quarterly survey in May 2005. An additional 16% of companies said they weren’t going to buy Macs next quarter but are considering buying them in the future. Both desktop and laptop numbers put Apple at fourth place among business buyers behind Dell (35% of desktops, 33% of laptops), H-P (18%, and 16%) and Lenovo (7%, and 12%).

The number of Mac buyers is small relative to the competition’s buyer numbers, but impressive. Offices have long been dominated by computers running Microsoft’s Windows operating systems. (It’s now possible to run Windows on a Mac. But according to the ChangeWave study, seven percent of companies buying computers intend to use Apple’s operating system.) Apple seems to have some real momentum.

Just in case there’s any doubt where that momentum is coming from: The study found that more consumers will buy Apple laptops than any other brand. Twenty-nine percent of consumers who are buying a laptop next quarter said they’ll buy a Mac, ahead of Dell (28%) and H-P (21%). Among consumers who plan to buy desktops, Macs came in at 29%, just behind Dell (31%) and ahead of H-P (24%).

To be sure, 2008-09 is a long way off, but a forecast of slower revenues and profits cannot be encouraging to the parts of HP most connected to migrating HP 3000 customers.

An HP board director sold off more than 17,000 shares of HP stock less than 24 hours before HP released its 2009 news. Lucille Salhany sold shares for about $51.20 apiece.

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