Dell Up, Let’s Upgrade It!

22 Nov

Yesterday, Dell (DELL) released its preliminary results from the third quarter. Revenues and earnings came in above expectations. They’re making progress on the customer service issues they’ve had. And their international businesses performed well, growing much faster that the overall industry in those countries while gaining market share.

Today, Bear Stearns and Needham upgraded Dell. With these actions, they’re telling their clients that, since the stock is up and the future seems clearer, now is the time to buy. In other words, “Wait to buy it until it goes up.” This is the exact opposite of when an analyst should be recommending a “Buy.” I’m glad I don’t have an account with them.

These analysts wanted to see evidence that a turnaround is in place before issuing the upgrades. This C.Y.A. mentally may have cost their clients a great opportunity, as Dell is a company whose stock over the past few months has presented a tremendous value. And today it’s up around 10%. Where were the “buy” ratings before? Unfortunately for the firms’ clients, waiting until the point when everything is clear can reduce the eventual profits they earn. Uncertainty creates opportunity.

Dell will continue to invest in customer service, new product introductions, and international expansion. In the press release, management says future operating and financial improvements will be “nonlinear.” This simply means that capital expenditures will sap some near-term earnings and cash flows. As a long-term investor, I feel great when a business invests in its future growth, especially when incremental investment returns are as high as Dell’s. Managing with too much focus on the short-term can impair a company’s competitive advantages and be detrimental to shareholders.

Dell is generating massive amounts of free cash flow, enjoys 40%+ returns on equity, has almost no debt, and carries significant insider ownership. The company finished the quarter with almost $12 billion in cash – this amounts to 20% of Dell’s market value as of yesterday’s close. There is still quite a bit of upside from here.

Disclosure: I own shares of Dell.

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