Can HP Get a Do-Over?

For many companies, fiscal quarters sail by, and before you know it, the next earnings release is upon us. That's not the case with Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) of late. This past quarter seemed as if it lasted for ages, but that's because it's been jampacked with plot twists and climactic developments that would put a Stephen King thriller to shame.

The plot thickens
First, we had ex-CEO Leo Apotheker last quarter outlining his ambitious vision for the HP of the future, which included shedding the company's biggest revenue source and shuttering a struggling mobile operating system that was clinging onto life -- all while making a pricey acquisition in the name of new beginnings.

Then we had rumor after rumor of what would become of webOS amid escalating criticism that would lead to a high-profile ouster (complete with a golden parachute), board ridicule, poison pills, and, ultimately, a new leader.

As HP's new leader, eBay (NAS: EBAY) ex-CEO Meg Whitman took hold of the reins, reaffirmed her predecessor's big buy, and reneged on that whole "let's get rid of our biggest business" idea. Meanwhile, the fate of webOS remains thus far undecided.

How'd we do?
Let's see how Whitman's first half-quarter went. Non-GAAP revenue for the fourth quarter checked in at $32.3 billion, which gave way to $1.17 in earnings per share by the time it reached the bottom line. Revenue scarcely beat the market's expectations of $32.1 billion in sales and matched its call of $1.17 earnings per share, and forward-looking guidance left a lot to be desired.

First-quarter 2012 non-GAAP earnings per share are pegged in the ballpark of $0.83 to $0.86, and the company sees full-year profit of "at least" $4 per share. Both figures fall far short of the consensus estimates of $1.11 and $4.84, respectively.

HP took roughly $2.1 billion, or $1.05 per share, in after-tax costs during the quarter associated with killing off the webOS device business. This hit resulted in GAAP earnings per share of just $0.12, representing an 89% plunge.

For the full year, total revenue was $127.4 billion, and earnings per share came in at $4.88.

Will the real HP of the future please stand up?
As much as Dell (NAS: DELL) may have hoped to become the last big stateside PC vendor, Whitman has officially decided to keep the Personal Systems Group, or PSG, which includes HP's PC business. The PSG brought in $10.1 billion in revenue during the quarter, a 2% year-over-year decline, while the Services segment that Apotheker was so focused on racked up $9.3 billion in sales.

Services generated $1.2 billion in operating income, continuing to boast a higher operating margin of nearly 13%, compared with the $578 million operating income from the PSG, or just under 6%. The next biggest operating segment in terms of revenue was HP's Imaging and Printing Group, bringing in $6.3 billion in revenue and $808 million in operating income.

Even as webOS awaits its destiny with bated breath, the fire-sale $99 price tag really got those TouchPads moving in a way that big-box retailer Best Buy (NYS: BBY) couldn't accomplish alone. Recent figures just released by The NPD Group showed that the sub-$100 frenzy scored HP the top spot among non-Apple (NAS: AAPL) tablets so far this year. Between January and October, among non-iPad tablets, HP took a 17% share, beating Samsung at 16% and Motorola Mobility (NYS: MMI) at 9%, while Research In Motion (NAS: RIMM) didn't even make the top five.

Some new reports now say that part of HP's decision on what will become of webOS depends on its ability to license it back for use in its printers, in an ambivalent move.

Can we get a mulligan?
Whitman has her work cut out for her. Over the past several weeks, HP has mostly stayed out of the spotlight, which is a good thing considering the types of headlines the company garnered at the height of the drama. She will need to help the company regain its footing and show that the board isn't made up of a bunch of incompetent infighters.

She also has to convince investors that under her watch, HP will have a strategic direction -- something I hear is pretty important in the business world -- and that her leadership will be a fresh starting point for the 72-year-old icon she's heading up.

Good luck, Meg. You're going to need it.

AddHewlett-Packardto your Watchlist to see whether Meg Whitman can turn this ship around. And getaccess to this free reporton another tech powerhouse looking to capitalize on the next trillion-dollar revolution.

At the time thisarticle was published Fool contributorEvan Niuowns shares of Apple, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Best Buy.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple, Dell, and eBay, writing covered calls in Best Buy, and creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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