What we won’t learn about Dell tomorrow

Michael Dell Addresses Oracle Open World Conference
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Dell CEO Michael Dell delivers a keynote address during the 2013 Oracle Open World conference on September 25, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The week-long Oracle Open World conference runs through September 26. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Photo by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Dell Inc. has now been private for more than one year, thanks to a $24.9 billion buyout by company founder Michael Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake. Tomorrow the tech giant will unveil what it’s been up to in the interim, and it gave The NY Times a sneak peek:

The new Dell has software, equipment for data storage and computer networking, services and sensors. It is developing software that measures facial expressions, voice tone, even how we individually swipe key cards. There is a device that can make a hotel room’s digital television into a secure corporate computer. A Dell tablet is the world’s thinnest and lightest, the company says, with a four-million-pixel screen and a three-dimensional camera. And, of course, there are lots of new personal computers.

To be sure, we’re also likely to hear a lot about how none of the above would have been possible were Dell still a publicly-traded company, needing to justify its R&D spend each quarter to fickle Wall Street analysts. And I’m not here to argue the point, particularly given that Michael Dell invested billions of his own money on that very thesis.

Instead, I just want to note that tomorrow’s presentation will tell us virtually nothing about whether or not Dell is a healthier company than it was one year ago.

Sure, we might “ooh” and “ahh” over a few things, and hear from tech analysts how they’ll sell like cronuts. But we won’t know the cost basis for that innovation (or for planned innovation that didn’t make it to the stage). Nor Dell’s top line financials, bottom-line financials nor what percentage of free cash-flow is going to pay off debt. All we know are cherry-picked product adoption press releases from the company, and third-party estimates about sale volume.

Remember, Dell didn’t just pull its stock from the Nasdaq — it also structured its leveraged loans in a manner that allows the company to avoid most other public reporting requirements. In other words, we know less about Dell than we do many other large companies that have been taken private. Moreover, Dell has less impetus to return to the public markets than do many of its ilk. Michael Dell is the majority shareholder, and also wealthy enough to buy out Silver Lake and the other minority co-investors, if he so chooses.

The new Dell may, or may not, be better than the old Dell. We just don’t know. Which is exactly how Michael Dell wants it.

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