HP's $9 Billion Mistake

We talk a lot about freedom on this network. The freedom to start your own business. The freedom to invest.

With freedom, also comes responsibility, and today we've seen a lot of people just blow it.

Look, I am often highly-critical of the way government operates, and we spend a lot of time criticizing the feds, even state and local governments for wasting our tax money.

The truth is, though, some folks in the CEO suite are making some of the same mistakes, and if you hold their stock in your portfolio, you have every reason to gripe.

Case in point, today, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Leo Apotheker.

One of my colleagues here at Fox Business nominated Apotheker the worst CEO of all time.

Here's why: in his rush to right the ailing tech company, Apotheker restructured HP's legendary PC business, and bought a British software company called Autonomy.

Now, interestingly, Oracle had taken a look at Autonomy and decided to take a pass.

HP should have done the same because today it had to take a nearly $9 billion accounting charge after finding out that the company had "serious accounting improprieties" and "outright misrepresentations."

$10 billion down the drain.

The write-off wipes out the company's profit. Hey, at least the traders at JP Morgan that lost $5 billion knew they were taking a gamble!

Which raises the question, isn't that what due diligence is for? And why did the due diligence fail?

By the way, I should point out Autonomy execs say they are not guilty of misleading shareholders or playing games with their accounting.

The former HP CEO, Apotheker, is long gone- about a year, but his legacy continues and followers of his career aren't surprised. This is the same fella who was booted as CEO at the world's biggest business software company, SAP, after just a year in the job.

While Apotheker was at HP, the company leached $30 billion in market cap. Ouch!

But again, investors have seen it before. Dennis Koslowski, who used TYCO as his own personal piggy bank, or John Scully, who fired Steve Jobs at Apple back in 1985. Ouch.

The beauty of the private sector as opposed to government is when you really screw up- well, there are penalties.

HP stock is down 12% today, bumping along at the bottom of its 52-week trading range.


The same human behavior, but the market has a little bit of discipline that is sorely needed in the public sector.