Dell Shares Look Excessively Cheap

It has been a long time since I can recall seeing a blue chip company like Dell (DELL) carry such a meager stock market valuation. It is true that Hewlett Packard (HPQ) has been stealing market share from Dell in recent years, and even overtook them as the world’s leading computer maker, but investors seem to be pricing Dell stock as if they are no longer relevant in the computer hardware marketplace. Given that Dell remains number two worldwide in PC shipments, I think pronouncements of their death may be greatly exaggerated.

Just how cheap are Dell shares? Well, Dell currently has about $8.8 billion of net cash on their balance sheet, which equates to nearly half of their share price ($4.50 per share in net cash versus a stock price of $10 and change). Total cash of $5.50 per share (excluding debt) is more than 50% of their current share price. I can’t name another profitable blue chip company that trades at just two times net cash.

Given the low stock price, Dell’s operations must be going horribly wrong, right? Well, not really. For their latest fiscal year, which ended January 31st, Dell earned an operating profit of $3.2 billion. Subtract out income taxes and Dell’s operating businesses are earning about $2.4 billion per year. This compares very favorably to their enterprise value of around $11 billion. At $10 per share, Dell stock trades at less than 5 times operating earnings. Is it a stretch to think it could fetch twice that price sometime down the road? Not in my view.

Now, something could certainly get in the way of this analysis. Excess cash is a great thing to have, but it can easily be wasted by management. Dell has been doing many smaller acquisitions in recent years to beef up its product line. If management did a large deal (using their cash war chest) and it turned out be a bad idea, shareholder value could be destroyed rather quickly.

Another risk is that they use their excess cash to beef up research and development. I say this could be a negative because the new products might not pay off. For instance, there have been rumors for months that Dell is developing a cell phone line. As a shareholder, I don’t care for this idea. The cell phone market is crowded and Dell has no experience in it. If they spend hundreds of millions on something like that, and it fails, a once large cash hoard could quickly shrink without much to show for it.

Regardless, Dell stock looks very cheap to me, especially if management spends their money wisely in coming years. Finding such strong companies at discounted prices isn’t always easy, but in this case Dell looks to be a bargain. Feel free to let me know what you think.

Full Disclosure: Peridot Capital was long shares of Dell at the time of writing, but positions may change at any time.