The Dell and PC hardware value trap

I noticed recently that Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) slipped below $10/share. They’re now at $9.5/share or roughly a market capitalization of 16 billion (if you net out the cash and debt, the enterprise value is about $12 billion). This is on $3 billion income for the trailing 12 months, so something is completely out of whack – the market is either nuts, or they’re betting that Dell’s net income is going to drop significantly in the future. The latter is more likely to be the case.

I still don’t see anything worth investing in unless if you have a good sense of salvage or residual cash flow analysis. Dell is facing a compounding problem of being in a low margin industry that is not only shrinking, but is facing longer lifespan cycles and technological shifting.

In other words, they don’t have a proprietary tablet to be selling for ultra-large margins like some other fruity-named company.

Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) has an escape route – their processors can be used elsewhere and can command market pricing. They’ll take collateral damage, but will do relatively better. However, since the consumer end is still a significant portion of their market, I will also continue to lump them in the value trap category. Their anti-trust shield, AMD (NYSE: AMD), should also struggle. Considering that embedded chip makers such as ARM (Nasdaq: ARMH) are stronger competition to Intel, it makes you wonder if AMD is at all relevant any more and will get taken out by Intel finally.

This is similar to the fate that graphic chip designers were all finally consolidated into Nvidia (Nasdaq: NVDA) – which in itself might get munched by Intel. Its as good a time as any for consolidation in this entire PC sector.

Finally, it is always easy to point out share buybacks are a mistake when your stock is richly priced, but in Dell’s case, they have cumulatively spent $32.1 billion of cash on repurchasing 1.2 billion shares of stock – an average price of $26.79 per share. If from day zero they banked this cash and simply traded at a market cap of their net cash value (not even the higher book value), they would be trading at $11.93/share today. If they traded at the premium above book value as they are trading today, they would be at $15.26/share. Quite a bit of value destruction went on with those share buybacks.