In what would be Larry Ellison‘s crowning achievement if he could pull it off, the market is buzzing over the idea that Oracle could make a run at Hewlett-Packard.
This idea stems from a New York Post story Sunday, which asserts that the sell-off in the stock last week has “put the world’s largest tech company in a vulnerable position and may make it an Oracle takeover target.” The piece says that “one source close to the situation” thinks Ellison is ready to pounce, and that a deal is “inevitable” if HP’s share price keeps dropping.
The source told the Post that a takeover of HP becomes a lot easier if they complete a spin of the PC business, a part of the company Oracle likely would not want to own. The same source suggested an acquisition would likely be followed by the sale of the HP printer business.
Gallery: The 20 Richest People In The World
Gallery: In Detail: What The Top 20 U.S. Companies Pay In Taxes
There are a lot of delicious elements to the story, if it happens to be true – and I would note that this feels more like speculation and wishful thinking than true insider knowledge. A hostile Oracle bid for HP would pit Larry and his sidekick Mark Hurd, the former CEO of HP, against HP CEO – and former SAP co-CEO – Leo Apotheker, along with HP Chairman Ray Lane, who himself was once the #2 man at Oracle, and left when it became clear that Ellison had no plans to step down from the top job. Meanwhile, HP is furious with Oracle from its announcement earlier this year that it will no longer develop software for the Itanium server processor that HP had developed with Intel. These two companies do not like each other, and it is hard to imagine they could work out friendly terms. This is a smack down I’d pay money to see.
The biggest question is here is whether even mighty Oracle could pull off a deal of this size. The current HP market cap is $50 billion; not that long ago it was $70 billion. Oracle has a little under $29 billion in cash; it would have to lever up to buy HP, even if you knock off $10 billion or $15 billion for the potential PC spin. The deal would also do ruinous things to Oracle’s profit margins, which are far higher than HP’s at both the gross margin and operating margin level. And there would no doubt be antitrust questions, particularly given the two companies strong positions in servers. (Let’s not forget that Oracle jumped into the server market when it bought Sun.)
Wells Fargo analyst Jayson Maynard weighed in the on the Post story this morning, and finds the possible intriguing, but a long shot.
“We definitely think Oracle would be interested at the right price given HP’s enterprise assets, Mark Hurd’s experience, and the obvious turmoil at the company,” he writes in a research note. “If Oracle could grab the just enterprise business, we think it would be a huge benefit, as it would add significant account coverage, server and storage hardware depth, unique software assets (Mercury, Open View, Opsware etc.), a better competitive position against IBM, and call options in product areas like networking and IT services.”
On the other hand, he notes that this would be “a fairly complex process given HP’s size and the clear animosity between the two firms.” And he points out that “there is no love lost between the two companies,” which means “it would most likely be a hostile takeover, which could easily take a year or more to close.”
Maynard adds that you have to assume HP doesn’t think the recent precipitous stock price drop reflects the value of its business. “As a result we can envision a fairly testy and drawn-out fight if Oracle were to proceed with a hostile approach. We see practically zero chance Chairman Ray Lane and CEO Leo Apothekar agreeing to a peaceful deal.”
HPQ is up 97 cents, or 4.1%, to $24.57.