HPE gives upbeat outlook on software push

CEO Neri has sought to diversify the hardware maker from the servers and storage solutions that generate most of its revenue

By BLOOMBERG

SAN FRANCISCO • Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co (HPE) gave a forecast for the current quarter that topped some Wall Street estimates, signalling that it’s benefitting from recent cost cuts and a push into software and computer services aimed at lessening its dependence on hardware.

Profit excluding certain costs will be 35 cents to 39 cents a share in the fiscal third quarter (3Q), the Palo Alto, California-based company said in a statement on Tuesday. Analysts had projected 36 cents on average, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Second- quarter revenue and profit also exceeded analysts’ average projections, and HPE shares gained in extended trading following the report.

HPE CEO Antonio Neri has sought to diversify the hardware maker from the servers and storage solutions that generate most of its revenue. He’s tried to reshape the company into a hybrid-cloud and networking player by developing offerings for the Internet-of- Things and boosting its software products.

HPE agreed to buy networking firm Cape Networks in March to boost its networking arm against Cisco Systems Inc, VMware Inc and Dell Technologies Inc. It also bought software firm Plexxi this month and cloud IT consulting firm RedPixie in April. The strategy is to offer a more holistic suite of offerings to its corporate clients, boost profit margins amid rising hardware memory costs and compete against cloud companies Amazon.com Inc and Microsoft Corp, which offer a broad array of services over the Internet.

“I was the architect of HPE Next,” Neri said in an interview, referring to the company’s programme to cut costs.

“Now it’s paying off on multiple fronts. The market seems to be better. In the last three months, I and the team went on acquiring things.” Those acquisitions have helped to boost sales, but Neri said growth rates will “modulate” later this year on tough comparisons.

HPE shares were up slightly following the report and forecast.

The stock, which has gained 20% in the past year, had closed at US$17.41 in regular New York trading.

In the 2Q, which ended April 30, revenue rose 9.7% to US$7.47 billion (RM29.88 billion), from US$6.81 billion a year earlier.

Analysts had projected US$7.4 billion. Profit, excluding some items, was 34 cents a share, exceeding analysts’ estimates of 31 cents. Net income in the recent period was US$778 million, or 49 cents.

Neri said HPE had an easier time passing on higher component costs for its servers and data-storage to customers, by raising prices by a few percentage points. That left the company’s Hybrid IT division, which consists of the storage and server businesses, with an operating profit margin of 10.3% in the latest period, up from 9.6% in the previous quarter.

Rivals including Dell used to price their offerings more aggressively, forcing HPE to sacrifice profit margins by not passing all component costs on to customers. But Dell has to spend money paying interest on its massive debt from a leveraged buyout, so it can’t afford such a competitive pricing strategy anymore, Neri said.

A Dell spokeswoman pointed to recent remarks from executive Jeff Clarke that Dell has the largest market share in servers and storage and expects to increase its lead this year.

HPE’s Hybrid IT division generated sales of US$6.02 billion, an increase of 6.8% from the same period a year earlier.

HPE has sought to offer higher- end hardware products, including so-called hyperconverged systems that include server, storage and networking capabilities in one box. Plexxi’s software will help HPE compete against offerings from Dell and Nutanix Inc.

The company’s Intelligent Edge division — usually one of its fastest-growing units — posted revenue growth of 17% in the 2Q, with sales totalling US$710 million. HPE has tried to nurture the division by building out its offerings with acquisitions, such as Cape Networks, meant to boost HPE’s artificial intelligence capabilities.

HPE’s transition to networking and higher-end servers has put the company in “better markets”, and it’s been helped by stronger customer demand, CFO Tim Stonesifer said on a conference call with analysts.

The April period was the first full quarter under Neri.