PALO ALTO — Standard & Poor’s lowered the credit ratings for Hewlett-Packard Co. on Thursday, saying the potential benefits of the planned $22 billion acquisition of Compaq Computer Corp. are offset by the deal’s high risks.
HP’s credit rating was lowered from single A-minus to double A-minus, and its commercial paper rating was lowered from A-1 plus to A-2 plus. The reductions may make it more expensive for the Palo Alto-based company to borrow money.
S&P said it would have lowered HP’s ratings even without the proposed Compaq purchase, because HP’s profits and outlook have become increasinly uncertain in the weak market for computer hardware.
The rating agency found some potential positives for HP — and its credit rating — in the Compaq deal. S&P said it “recognizes the strategic validity of the merger” and “the improved market position of the combined company.”
But it said those positive factors were offset by the significant risks involved with integrating the companies.
Even if the deal is rejected by HP shareholders March 19, both companies could be in for downgrades because of concern over their strategies as independent companies, S&P said.
HP said in a statement that it was disappointed with the S&P decision and was confident it has been planning adequately for the complex absorption of Compaq. The company had $7.1 billion in cash and short-term investments in January, with debt of $6.0 billion and operating cash flow of $4.8 billion.
HP shares fell 18 cents to $20.00 on the New York Stock Exchange, where shares of Houston-based Compaq gained 17 cents to $11.15.
The contested acquisition got two important blessings this week, from U.S. antitrust regulators on Wednesday and from Institutional Shareholder Services, an influential proxy advisory firm, on Tuesday. But most analysts say the HP shareholder vote is too close to call.