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More brutal PC numbers from Dell as revenues stay flat, profits sink

Could this be Dell's last earnings report ever?

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Dell announced its second-quarter earnings for fiscal 2014 on Thursday – five days early – and delivered a report that met analysts' expectations but once again showed a company struggling to remain profitable in the face of woeful trends in the PC industry.

This was the second quarter in a row that Dell announced its results ahead of schedule, after its Q1 numbers were leaked to the media in May. But although no such leak appeared to have happened this time, Dell went ahead and shipped its figures early anyway – and this time, it did it without so much as a conference call.

It wasn't hard to see why. As with recent quarters, there wasn't much to write home about. Non-GAAP earnings per share were $0.25, a penny better than the analysts' average bet. Total sales were $14.5bn – better than what the 17 analysts polled by Yahoo! Finance were expecting, but flat compared to the year-ago quarter.

Dell's profits, on the other hand, were way down. As with the previous quarter, the company's bottom line continued to take a beating from the one-two punch of aggressive price cuts in its PC business combined with shaky footing in its software business. This time around, net income for the quarter was down 72 per cent from the year-ago period.

As usual, much of that bleeding came from the PC business. Revenues from PC sales were down 5 per cent to $9.1bn, and operating income from the End User Computing division was down $205m from Q2 of 2013, a 71 per cent drop.

Revenues from PCs and thin clients were actually up 1 per cent, but laptop sales continued their slide, down 10 per cent from the year-ago quarter. Revenues from peripherals and third-party software sales were also down 5 per cent.

Dell's Software division must take its share of the blame again, too. This time, it posted an operating loss of $147m on revenue of $310m, compared to an $80m loss in the previous quarter and a $17m loss in Q2 of 2013.

"The company is continuing to enhance its software capabilities with investments in this business that increase R&D and sales capacity," Dell said in its earnings announcement.

Profits were down in the Enterprise Solutions group, as well, which is worrying, since the server, storage, and networking products division was one of the only bright spots in Q1. Revenues were up 8 per cent to $3.3bn, but operating income declined 9 per cent from the same period a year ago, to $137m.

Networking was the strongest segment in this group, with revenue up 19 per cent. Revenue from servers and peripherals increased 10 per cent, while storage was down 7 per cent.

The only real cause for celebration this quarter was the Services division. Its revenue was up 2 per cent to $2.1bn, resulting in a 1 per cent increase in operating income, to $339m. So, golf clap there.

Dell hastened to point out that, taken as a whole, the Enterprise Solutions, Services, and Software groups' revenue was $5.8bn, up 9 per cent year-over-year. But that hardly offsets the shrinking revenues of the PC division, whose operating margin is now down to a razor-thin 2.25 per cent.

As mentioned earlier, Dell declined to do the customary conference call with financial analysts this quarter. In a typical canned statement, CFO Brian Gladden said only, "In a challenging environment, we remain committed to our strategy and our customers, and we're encouraged by increasing customer interest in our end-to-end solutions offerings and continued growth in our Enterprise Solutions, Services and Software businesses."

And that might be the last we ever hear from him, too, given that honcho Michael Dell's $24.9bn leveraged buyout plan to take his namesake company private seems likely to succeed. Anticipating its impending de-listing, Dell has declined to give any guidance for next quarter. ®

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