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HP’s profit up on strong demand outside U.S.

Strong demand outside the United States for Hewlett-Packard Co.’s computers, printers and other products widened its profit margin in its second quarter.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hewlett-Packard Co. cashed in on rising international demand again in its second quarter, but that performance may not be enough to ease worries about the company’s exposure to the ailing U.S. economy as it prepares to digest the second largest acquisition in its 69-year history.

The results released Tuesday came as no surprise because HP provided a snapshot of its latest quarterly numbers and outlook last week when the Palo Alto-based company jolted investors with the news about its plans to buy technology services provider Electronic Data Systems Corp. for $13.2 billion.

The deal has raised concerns that Plano, Texas-based EDS will compound the headaches that HP may be facing if U.S. demand for its personal computers, printers and other products and services remains flat or slumps as consumer struggle to cover high gasoline and food costs while businesses also clamp down on spending.

Among other challenges, HP will likely have to make substantial layoffs from a combined work force of 210,000 employees while trying to blend two different corporate cultures after the EDS deal closes late this year.

HP is counting on EDS to boost the demand for its services and computers among major companies and government agencies while improving its competitive position against IBM Corp., the leading seller of technology services.

Echoing remarks from a week ago, Hurd assured reporters Tuesday that the acquisition will pay off.

“Make no mistake about it: We will get the cost right and we will create value for shareholders,” Hurd said during a conference call.

In a separate call with analysts, Hurd acknowledged the difficulty facing HP in the United States, where the company’s second-quarter sales were unchanged from a year ago.

“The best thing that I can tell you about the U.S. is that it’s a very spotty market and we try to maintain caution around it,” Hurd said.

Like several other large technology companies, HP’s international diversity is helping to offset the debilitating effects of the weak U.S. economy. Markets outside the United States accounted for 70 percent of HP’s revenue in the second quarter.

The strong international demand, fueled in part by the weak U.S. dollar, propelled an 11 percent increase in HP’s second-quarter revenue, which totaled $28.3 billion. If currencies had remained stable, HP said its revenue would have been up by 5 percent.

HP fared particularly well in the rapidly growing economies of China, India, Russia and Brazil, where its sales climbed 26 percent from last year.

“For us, it’s a world of opportunity out there,” Hurd said in an interview.

The company also was helped by strong worldwide sales of notebook computers, which climbed 31 percent from last year. Sales of desktop computers remained flat, a trend that Hurd attributed to rising consumer demand for more portable devices that can access the Internet over wireless networks.

In its second quarter, which ended in April, HP earned $2.06 billion, or 80 cents, per share. That represented a 16 percent increase from a profit of $1.76 billion, or 65 cents per share, at the same time last year.

Excluding acquisition costs, HP said its operating profit margin rose to 10 percent in the second quarter, up from 9 percent a year ago.

HP also reiterated the improved outlook it gave a week ago.

But the solid second-quarter performance and upbeat forecast for the rest of the year so far haven’t been enough to fully restore the erosion in HP’s stock price since news of the EDS deal leaked out.

HP shares are down about 6 percent since then, compared to a slight uptick in the Dow Jones industrial average, which includes HP as a component.

HP shares fell 25 cents to finish at $46.46 Tuesday, then shed another 31 cents, or 0.7 percent, in extended trading.