Business Spending On Technology Cause For Cautious Optimism

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Includes: HPQ, SPLS, TECD
by: William Trent, CFA

Key indicators for business spending include corporate profits and the cost of borrowing. Both have been favorable for years, yet businesses have focused more on cutting costs than on developing their infrastructure. With borrowing costs rising (at least in terms of the spread between Baa bonds and treasuries) I thought it another good opportunity to read the tea leaves from some recent earnings calls.

Tech Data (NASDAQ:TECD) starts things off on a positive note.

Looking at the Americas, our net sales exceeded our internal growth expectation which called for growth in the mid single digit range through strong execution and focused sales and product management efforts we want incremental business in the second quarter that boosted our growth rate to over 16% in the region, while still delivering our targeted operating margin. This double digit net sales growth was broad based with growth across virtually all of our product and customer segments....

Our Q3 business outlook calls for low double digit year-over-year growth in the Americas and flat to low single digit growth in Europe on the local currency basis.

(Excerpt from full TECD conference call transcript)

Staples (NASDAQ:SPLS) is running into some tough spots.

Our North American retail business again experienced softer than expected sales during the quarter with same-store sales down 2% and total sales up 5%, which led to only a modest increase in the bottom line. Our North American delivery business continued to gain market share with top line growth of 16% and operating income of 18%. Finally, we're happy with the strong improvement we're seeing in our international business, where total sales were up 18% in U.S. dollars. That's 11% in local currency. Same-store sales grew 7% and operating margin jumped 225 basis points to 1%.

So while we were very pleased with our results in North American delivery and international, it's clear we're operating in a tough retail environment in North America....

We had strong growth in copy center, laptop computers, ink and software, but these gains did not make up for negative comps in furniture, supplies, and tech durables.

(Excerpt from full SPLS conference call transcript)

And since both Staples and Tech Data source a good percentage of their tech products from Hewlett Packard (NYSE:HPQ) it is important to get their take on the situation as well.

Moving to PSG, we shared an outstanding quarter with excellent revenue growth, market share gains in every region and strong margin performance. Revenue increased 29% year-over-year to $8.9 billion with unit shipments up 33% and double digit revenue in unit growth in every region. These results bring PSG’s year-to-date revenue growth to nearly $5 billion. We have a strong momentum driven by our notebook business which grew revenues 54%, and units 71% versus the prior year period. According to our estimates for the second calendar quarter, we increased HP’s notebook market share lead by over 5 points versus the prior year....

We now expect Q4 revenue to be approximately $27 billion to $27.2 billion, growing roughly 10% to 11% year-over-year. While the sequential increase of 6% to 7% implied by our guidance is less than the historical 10% to 12%, we do not believe it is prudent to set investor expectations that our Personal Systems business can continue to grow at almost three times the market rate, nor do we think it appropriate to build a cost structure on that basis.

(Excerpt from full HPQ conference call transcript)

There don't seem to be too many signs of weakness, although the GDP numbers suggest there is. I'd argue for cautious optimism regarding tech spending over the next few quarters despite the rise in corporate interest spreads.