On the surface, finding fault with Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL) would appear to be very difficult. Revenue has gone from $44.1 billion in 2003 to $55.9 billion last year. Granted, operating income did not grow nearly as fast and was almost flat from 2004 to 2005, moving only from $4.254 billion to $4.347 billion.
Dell's CEO still talks about hitting the $100 billion mark in annual sales, but he is not giving any timetable. And, perhaps that is part of the problem. Investors wonder whether the company can still grow at any reasonable rate. The markets are clearly skeptical since the stock trades at about $29, which is where it was five years ago. After a run to over $41 in July 2005, the stock has pulled back again.
Dell is well-known as be a magician with logistics and cost controls, but does the company control its own fate? The critical components it buys for its hardware come from companies like Intel (NASD:INTC) and its software from companies like Microsoft (NASD:MSFT). This does not make Dell any better or worse off than Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) or any other manufacturer or marketer of PCs and servers, but it does say something about Dell's future ability to drive rapid revenue growth. The success of products like the new Microsoft OS may be just as critical to Dell's business as anything the company can do internally.
Dell expects to see robust sales in markets like China and India. But, the other side to coin is that the large Asian manufacturers like Lenovo plan to step up efforts to sell their products in North America. And, that is the crux of it. Can Dell grow fast enough in large new markets like India to offset whatever competition is has from Lenovo, Acer and other Asian companies, not to mention H-P?
Certainly partnerships like the one Lenovo has set up with Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) for PC retail sales are not good news for Dell. China's second largest PC company, Founder Technology Group, could also begin to push harder outside it native market. Dell, which according to media accounts, is in third place for market share in China, is clearly squeezing these companies on their home turf. Now, they are pushing back.
According to Dell, its international sales reached 43% of total revenue last year. Reuters has run stories citing Michael Dell, the company's founder, saying he expects growth in India of 40% during Q1 06.
In the end, the proclamations of $100 billion in sales and strong growth in emerging markets has not moved the Dell stock, nor are they likely to. At least until Dell can show that the horde of competitors chasing it are merely pretenders.
Douglas A. McIntyre is the former Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Financial World Magazine. He was also president of Switchboard.com when it was the 10th most visited website in the world, according to MediaMetrix. He has been chief executive of FutureSource, LLC and On2 Technologies, Inc. and has served on the boards of TheStreet.com and Edgar Online. He does not own securities in companies he writes about. McIntyre can be reached at email@example.com.