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商業 - 科技

對于人工智能,我們有理由樂觀

Bernhard Warner 2019年10月31日

業界廣泛認為,我們需要設計真正有效的人工智能,要讓其更加可靠和透明,并擺脫偏見。

圖片來源:Sompong Rattanakunchon—Getty Images
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惠普的打印機和油墨業務曾經是公司的搖錢樹,但如今可能已經是明日黃花。

惠普今年宣布了重大重組計劃。根據這一計劃,公司將裁員7000至9000名,占其5.5萬名員工總數的13%至16%。據預計,此舉在2022年年底之前每年將為公司節約10億美元的費用。為了調動投資者的積極性,惠普提到了增加10%的派息,以及加大股票回購力度。

此消息一出,惠普股價在10月4日收盤時下跌了9.6%。摩根士丹利、瑞士信貸和美國銀行均將其目標股價下調了1美元或更多。Loop Capital將其股票評級從“買入”降為“持有”,此前,Sanford C. Bernstein和UBS在9月便已經下調了其評級。

從表面上看,問題出在打印業務上。但如果深究起來,問題的結癥在于投資者和分析師對惠普跟上時代巨變步伐的能力表示懷疑。

惠普念念不忘的液體黃金

惠普的命脈——惠普2014年拆分后所形成的打印和計算機部門——來自于打印機油墨的銷售。

2019年前9個月,計算機(惠普的個人系統部門)業務營收達到了283億美元,而營收151億美元的打印業務營似乎有些不夠看。不過,如果說到運營利潤率,局面出現了反轉。

截至2019年7月31日的季度,個人系統的運營利潤率為5.6%。打印業務利潤利潤率達到了15.6%,是公司利潤的主要貢獻者。截至2019年7月31日的前9個月,打印部門近65%的營收來自于“耗材”,也就是油墨。

傳統的打印業務模式與剃須刀和刀頭的模式類似。銷售剃須刀的公司會以低價向消費者銷售剃須刀,一旦鎖定客戶之后,刀頭(油墨)賣的并不便宜,繼而打造了一個用戶不斷購買的高利潤產品。

這些利潤為公司眾多的其他開支項提供了資金。對于惠普來說,不幸的是,油墨市場多年來一直處于變化當中。瑞士聯合銀行的IT硬件、服務和網絡首席分析師約翰·羅伊說:“人們正在線下購買一些不知名品牌。”

Argus Research的研究總監、科技行業高級分析師吉姆·科勒赫表示,具體來說最大的問題在于,“商業客戶開始購買替代油墨墨盒。”惠普的零售銷售業績十分強勁,但那些商業客戶正越來越多地在線購買替代墨盒來省錢。“因此,作為惠普利潤最高且利潤率超過了個人電腦的業務,油墨如今也遭到了圍攻。問題在于,惠普的這顆掌上明珠也不得不面對利潤率長期下滑的現實。”

惠普的計劃是將其打印產品線拆分為兩個門類。像手機一樣,一個門類將以高價出售,但不會設限,這樣,用戶可自行選擇油墨。另一個門類的價格更便宜,但只能使用惠普的墨盒。惠普沒有透露有關不設限打印機的硬件以及兩類產品用墨量的具體信息。

羅伊說:“他們覺得自己在競爭中擁有[油墨]成本優勢。”理論上,惠普大概可以將其油墨價格降至任何不知名品牌難以承受的價位。

投資者擔心

惠普可能對其計劃充滿了信心,但突如其來的股價下跌、分析師的評級下調以及目標價格的減少反映了投資者對于自己的所見所聞并不滿意。原因可能有兩點。

瑞士聯合銀行的羅伊說:“很有可能,他們已經制定了能夠奏效的策略。[然而],從我的經驗看來,這一點不太現實。”這種轉變要求惠普的客戶做出巨大的調整,而對打印機或油墨加價的做法可能會讓他們感到不悅。

一位惠普的發言人提到,重組聲明中引用了即將上任的惠普首席執行官恩瑞克·洛瑞斯的原話:“在我們即將踏上新征程之際,我們將采取大膽、果斷的行動。我們在創造股東價值方面看到了大量的機遇,而且我們將通過提升領導力,顛覆行業,以及積極地轉變我們的工作方式來實現這一目標。我們將成為一家更加注重客戶的數字化企業,而且凸顯創新引領和目的性執行。”

但這里存在更深層次的顧慮。IT投資顧問公司martinwolf M&A Advisors的總裁及創始人馬蒂·沃爾夫說:“這個模式存在漏洞”,而且很久之前就已存在。“如果我們看一下[惠普和2014年拆分形成的另一家公司慧與],它們參與競爭的最復雜的垂直業務領域達到了15到20個,而且每一個領域都得拔尖。它們應該被拆分為20家公司。公司需要的并不是懂個人電腦和打印業務的高管[例如曾經執掌打印部門的洛瑞斯],而是有重組經驗的高管。”(最近,像eBay等公司發現自己在剝離非關聯資產時倍感壓力。)

惠普的發言人在回應中提到了公司的首席執行官在2019年8月22日做出的后續聲明。這位發言人將洛瑞斯描述為“一名關鍵的構建師,他執行了商業史上最大、最復雜的企業拆分”,而且“在惠普成本架構的轉型過程中發揮了至關重要的作用,同時還簡化了組織構架,打造了投資創新的能力,以推動盈利性的營收和盈利增長。”在同一個聲明中,惠普董事長、李維斯首席執行官齊普·伯格將洛瑞斯稱為“一位鼓舞人心、久經考驗的商業領導者”,他是“董事會全票通過的首席執行官繼任者”。

此外,有鑒于此前看似強勁的財報,這類聲明不應引發股價的大跌。卡內基梅隆大學泰珀商學院的金融學教授切斯特·斯帕特說:“市場通常將其看作公司試圖更好地控制這一局面。可能市場從中看到了一些負面信息。”

惠普預計于11月發布公司財報,我們很快就能夠知道是否還會有更多的負面消息流出。如果是這樣,投資者可能會認定惠普的墨盒將成為明日黃花。(財富中文網)

譯者:馮豐

審校:夏林

HP’s printer and ink business used to gush money. Those days may be over.

The company announced a major restructuring at its 2019 securities analyst meeting on Thursday. HP will reduce its workforce of 55,000 by 7,000 to 9,000—a cut of 13% to 16%. The move is supposed to save $1 billion a year by the end of 2022. To entice investors, HP mentioned a 10% boost in stock dividends and increased share buybacks.

The news sent shares reeling by 9.6% at October 4’s market close. Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, and Bank of America all lowered their share price targets by a dollar or more. Loop Capital downgraded it from “buy” to “hold,” which is on top of September downgrades by Sanford C. Bernstein and UBS.

The surface issue is the printing business. But going deeper, investors and analysts aren’t confident that HP can evolve to keep up with drastically changing times.

HP misses all that liquid gold

The lifeblood of HP—the printing and PC unit that resulted from the 2014 split of the original Hewlett-Packard—is the sale of printer ink.

In the first nine months of 2019, computers (HP’s personal systems division) brought in $28.3 billion for the company. The printing division, at $15.1 billion, seems like the weaker sibling. But look at operating margins, and the picture flips.

In the quarter ending July 31, 2019, personal systems had an operating margin of 5.6%. Printing, with a 15.6% margin, brings in the big profits. And almost 65% of the printing division revenue in those nine months ending July 31, 2019 came from “supplies.” That’s ink.

The traditional printing business model functions similarly to that of the razors and razorblades business. Companies sell razors to consumers at low prices, then once they are locked in, the blades—like ink—are expensive, creating a high profit-margin item users buy over and over.

These are the profits that subsidize so much elsewhere in the company. Unfortunately for HP, the ink market has been changing for years. “People are going offline and buying off-brand,” says John Roy, lead analyst in IT hardware, services, and networking for UBS.

“Specifically [it’s] the purchase of replacement ink cartridges by commercial accounts” that is the big problem, says Jim Kelleher, director of research and senior technology analyst for Argus Research. HP is strong in retail sales. But those commercial customers are increasingly buying substitute cartridges online to save money. “So, the highest-margin part of this business, which has higher margins than the PC business, is now under siege. The concern is that this crown-jewel business must contend with secular decline in margins.”

HP's plan is to break its printing product lines into two categories. Like cell phones, some will come at a premium price but be unlocked, so users can choose any ink they want. The other type are priced cheaper but only work with HP cartridges. There’s no word yet on the premium for the unlocked printer hardware or how much ink would run in either case.

“They feel like they have [an ink] cost advantage versus the competition,” Roy says. In theory, HP could presumably drop its ink price below whatever the off-brands could afford to charge.

Investors balk

HP may believe in its plans, but the sudden share drop and analyst downgrades and price-target reductions show investors don’t like what they hear. That may be for two reasons.

“It’s certainly possibly they could have a strategy that works,” Roy of UBS says. “[But] it doesn’t fit my experience.” Such a shift requires an enormous change on the part of HP’s customers, who may not like being told to pay more for printers or ink.

An HP spokesperson pointed to the restructuring announcement that quoted incoming HP CEO Enrique Lores as saying, “We are taking bold and decisive actions as we embark on our next chapter. We see significant opportunities to create shareholder value and we will accomplish this by advancing our leadership, disrupting industries and aggressively transforming the way we work. We will become an even more customer-focused and digitally enabled company, that will lead with innovation and execute with purpose.”

But there are deeper concerns. “Their model is flawed” and has been for a long time, says Marty Wolf, president and founder of IT investment advisory firm martinwolf M&A Advisors. “If you look at [both HP and HPE, the other spin-off from the 2014 breakup], they compete across 15 or 20 of the most complex verticals, and you have to be best of breed. They needed to be broken up in 20 companies. They don’t need an executive [like Lores, who was head of the printing division] with experience in PCs and printers. They need an executive with experience in restructuring.” (Recently other companies like eBay have found themselves under pressure to shed non-related assets.)

The HP spokesperson responded with a reference to the company’s CEO succession announcement of Aug. 22, 2019, which characterized Lores as “a key architect of one of the largest and most complex corporate separations in business history” and “instrumental in transforming HP’s cost structure while simplifying the organization and creating the capacity to invest in innovation to drive profitable top and bottom-line growth.” In the same announcement, HP board chairman Chip Bergh, who is CEO of Levi Strauss, called Lores “an inspiring and proven business leader” who was “the board’s unanimous choice as a successor.”

Also, with previous financial filings seeming strong, this sort of announcement shouldn’t result in tanking shares. “Usually the market views that as the company trying to take better control of a situation,” says Chester Spatt, a professor of finance at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. “Maybe the market thinks there’s adverse information in this.”

With an earnings announcement expected in November, we’ll soon find out if there’s more bad news to come. If that’s the case, investors might decide HP’s cartridge has run dry.

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