The Dow's Biggest Blowup

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) contains 30 of the best-known and most successful companies in the world. They build the airplanes we ride on, serve us millions of hamburgers every day, and bring us the Internet on the devices they assemble.

But while their distinct identities are often usurped by inclusion on the index, each of the Dow's components offers investors unique opportunities and exposure. With this in mind, the current article series provides a cursory update on each of the 30 stocks included on the storied index. Up today is Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) .

Since I last discussed HP, noting that it has underperformed the Dow by 45 percentage points, things have gone from bad to worse at the technology company. As you can see in the chart below, this gaping divide has now expanded an additional seven percentage points. For the year, shares in HP are down a startling 43% compared to the broader market's gain of nearly 9%.

HPQ Total Return Price Chart

HPQ Total Return Price data by YCharts

As my colleague Alex Dumortier noted earlier today, this latter-day slump was fueled by comments from Meg Whitman, the struggling tech company's chief executive officer. Talking to a group of Wall Street analysts yesterday, Whitman lowered the company's earnings guidance for next year, saying that it expects to earn between $3.40 and $3.60 a share relative to the consensus forecast of $4.16. Immediately following the comments, shares in the company got crushed, falling as much as 13% yesterday and continuing down today.

While this alone was ominous news, the worst was yet to come. "There are no silver bullets to solve our challenges," Whitman said. She then went on to note that "it's going to take longer to right this ship than any of us would like." Previously, the former eBay executive had estimated that the process would take four to five years. Now, it's really anybody's guess. According to an analyst quoted by The Wall Street Journal: "If it takes this long to turn around, you have to ask if it would be better in pieces."

Whitman blamed the current predicament on a history of "inconsistent strategic choices" and "operational miscues." No doubt she's referring to HP's slew of multibillion-dollar acquisitions over the last few years, forcing the company to write off billions of dollars in goodwill. In 2008, then-CEO Mark Hurd acquired Electronic Data Systems for $13.9 billion -- $10.8 billion of which was written off last year. In 2010, Hurd then pulled the trigger on Palm for $1.2 billion -- much of which was subsequently axed by HP following Hurd's scandal-induced ouster. To make matters worse, moreover, my colleague Evan Niu predicts that there's more to come.

Foolish bottom line
It should go without saying that investors would be wise to steer clear of HP for the time being. In its place, check out any one of the three companies identified in our popular free report: "3 American Companies Set to Dominate the World." To download this free report instantly, click here.

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Fool contributor John Maxfield does not have a financial stake in HP.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of eBay. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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