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Hewlett-Packard is expected to report its biggest loss in history today, as it reports its numbers for the third fiscal quarter that ended at the close of July. That’s a huge setback for a pioneering Silicon Valley company and the world’s largest maker of PCs and computer printers.

With such an anticipated loss of nearly $9 billion, chief executive Meg Whitman will face considerable scrutiny from investors, analysts, customers, and the company’s estimated 350,000 employees. The size of the loss shows how much cleaning up Whitman still has to do.

Much of the loss is expected to be related to a write-off of the value of its Enterprise Services division, which has been weighed down by the poor performance of Electronic Data Systems business that HP bought for $13 billion in 2008. The weakness at HP is in lockstep with Dell’s own disappointing quarterly report yesterday. HP’s earnings will be watched closely, since the company is a bellwether among tech companies.

Analysts are expecting HP to report a loss of $4.31 to $4.49 a share — or $8.5 billion to $8.9 billion — for the three months ending July 31. That’s part of the price that HP has to pay for losing to Apple in the tablet and smartphone wars, as well as sluggish performance of its enterprise group. After accounting charges, analysts predicted HP would earn 98 cents per share on revenue of $30.19 billion. A year ago, HP earned $1.9 billion, or 93 cents a share, on revenue of $31. 2 billion. HP’s stock is trading at $19.93 a share a share, giving the technology giant a value of $39.3 billion. By comparison, Apple is worth $615 billion.

It is likely to be the worst loss since HP started in 1939. Chief executive Meg Whitman is still coming up with plans to turn around the company after a year on the job. One of her initiatives is to cut HP’s staff by as much as 27,000 over a couple of years, recording a charge of $1.5 billion to $1.7 billion.

HP is banking on a revival for its PC business as Microsoft launches its Windows 8 operating system Oct. 26.

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