We sat through a webcast of Q3 FY 2013 conference call for Dell. Our rationale for spending the time required to attend this earnings presentation was simple. We are investors in Dell. As well, we are largely focused on realities and potential trends in IT computing for enterprise businesses and comparably sized organizations in the public and/or private sectors. Regardless of Dell’s present condition, the company is, nevertheless, a major factor in our area of focus, and, therefore, worth our attention.
It is hard for us to believe, but nevertheless true (per this report), that Dell embarked on its effort to transform itself into an “end to end” solution for enterprise markets four years ago. Brian T. Gladden, SVP and CIO makes mention of this fact at the start of this webcast presentation of the Q3 results. Gladden also notes that this “end to end” product produced approximately $4.8 Billion in earnings for the quarter, which, by any standard, is a considerable amount of money. But the composite growth rate, at a mere 3%, in our opinion, is much more indicative of a stable, mature business, than a growth vehicle. Further, the fact that the leading group of products in this complex set of solutions (in terms of revenue generation), namely hardware servers and network equipment, are simply the foundation for Dell’s growing set of offers at the application layer (principally Quest Software) says to us that enterprise IT spending on software is largely at a standstill, at least for Dell.
Mr. Gladden noted that total company revenue was down 11% year over year, but still within the range management forecasted in August, 2012 (albeit at the low end of that range). Gross margin, at 22% declined 60 basis points, from Q2 fy 2013. We think that some of this decline in gross margin can be attributed to what we have written about elsewhere in this blog, namely, the phenomenon whereby IT software is trending, from the customer, demand, perspective, to mere commodity. Profitability was shored up by careful management of operational expenses (OPEX). Nevertheless, earnings per share amounted to a 28% reduction below Q2 fy 2013.
Sales of network hardware grew by 40%, which is impressive. Mr. Gladden noted that Dell launched its “Active Infrastructure Converged Offering” in this quarter. This offer includes hardware, software and services components ” . . . under a common design architecture . . .” (quoted from Dell’s webcast, which can be accessed from the Dell website, for which a link has been provided above). He characterized the market forces driving this offering as a need for “simpler” solutions.
Per Mr. Gladden, the drop of 3% in sales of storage solution resulted in revenue that fell below management’s expectations. Nevertheless, he characterized this drop as more the result of weaker market demand than any competitive factors.
Our conclusion from this section of the Dell webcast is that enterprise IT spending on data center, on premise solutions is on hold, at least for the class of solutions offered by this vendor. Further, and with specific reference to Dell, itself, we think that the fact that hardware components — namely servers and network devices — remain key revenue drivers, despite 4 years of transition, indicates some management difficulty with regards to truly transforming this business.
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