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Potential Suitors, Continued: LG Or Private Equity?

Face-Off: Does HP's PC Business Affect Us Enthusiasts?
By , Alan Dang

Alan: Yeah, a lot HP monitors use LG panels, so just switching to Samsung would be a great move. Samsung could be going for the Best Buy, Walmart, Costco PC buyer, which isn't a bad market to have.

Actually the best move for Samsung is to only partner with whoever buys HP. The organization buying HP needs to be more cost efficient. If Samsung meets with said organization and offers superior pricing for a pure Samsung-supplied DRAM, hard drive, SSD, and LCD, Samsung would win without actually taking on extra risk.

Whenever there's Samsung, there's LG. LG also makes excellent notebooks, but unlike Samsung, LG doesn't sell its notebooks in the US. An acquisition of HP PC business would provide LG with many of the same benefits that Lenovo's acquisition of IBM had. LG would gain the business expertise required for managing a multinational PC corporation that it currently lacks. It would gain access to a wider market than it currently owns and leapfrog its PC business.

Like Samsung, LG has been aggressive with smart appliances, and that’s where webOS would be valuable. Its TVs already feature an App store! Since LG uses Plex to power its media streaming, it could use a consumer line of PC products preinstalled with the Plex Server to showcase home entertainment products. Like Lenovo, LG would have to purchase HP's business and keep it largely intact. From a financial standpoint, this works in the short term. Long term, LG won't have the ability to do anything that HP couldn't. It could get a few years of profitable business—remember HP personal computing division actually makes a profit. It's the long-term goal of sustaining that profit that will be tough. In this last financial quarter, LG Home Entertainment actually turned a profit when everyone else was losing money. Samsung is probably the more likely candidate, but it all depends on the vision of the CEO and what HP is willing to sell its PC business for.

Chris: I think that LG's lack of a business computing play similarly hurts its chances of succeeding by running the business like HP. It'd need a different approach entirely. If anything, I wonder (and doubt) that the addition of PC business and webOS would add enough to LG's already-divergent direction to warrant considering this a viable move, though.

Alan: Yeah, I'm just throwing it out there. Last, you have a private equity consortium. Private equity firms love to buy distressed companies, turn them around, and then sell them for a profit. To do this though, HP has to be sold at a fire sale price.

HP's plan to exit the PC market while it’s in the #1 position means that it has no confidence in the long-term success of the PC. This is the only time I can recall in history that a company in the #1 position has decided to bail out. There are three scenarios that can play out.

One, HP is acquired by a firm that is able to succeed where HP could not. Samsung is one such company that could potentially have lower manufacturing costs and more economies of scale. If this happens, mainstream consumers will win with cheaper hardware.  Unfortunately, this will also shift the balance of power between building and buying a computer. If HP-Samsung actually happens, and Samsung is able to decrease the cost of manufacturing even further, then enthusiasts lose. The cost of components from Newegg and a Windows 7 software license would be more than buying a pre-fab machine from Best Buy. Enthusiasts would be more likely to buy and upgrade such a machine than build their own. That means add-in board manufacturers and CPU cooler manufacturers, and all the small companies making unique products for the PC would die out.

Chris: This is far from a certainty, though, for two reasons. First, the factors that compel enthusiasts to build today won't change. You'll still end up with tier-one boxes loaded with garbage software, leaning on cost-reduced boards that lack much of the functionality an enthusiast is ultimately looking for. Second, Samsung's manufacturing extends to memory, storage, and display technology? With the possible exception of SSDs (and this being less true over time), I don't see where you'd get a lot of added value from a Samsung-built PC. I certainly wouldn't anticipate savings significant enough to alter the enthusiast's mind-share and compel do-it-yourselfers to start gutting Samsung machines.

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