Compaq Computer Corp reported superb fourth quarter figures, but the goodness was mostly down to excellent asset management, and could not quite disguise the fact that the market in the fourth quarter was a lot less than sparkling. Net profit for the three months ended December 31 jumped 43% to $462m before charges in the earlier period are taken into account, but sales were up only a pedestrian 15% at $5.4bn, which compares with sales growth for the year as a whole of 23% to $18.1bn, on which profits grew 64.7% after the charges in the year-ago period. In contrast to IBM Corp’s shares, those of Compaq, which started trading about 25 minutes after the New York Stock Exchange opened, jumped $3.875 to $82.125 in heavy trading. The company said an emphasis on asset management reduced its inventory by $1bn to $1.1bn and raised its cash balances to $4bn from just $745m at the end of the previous year and $4bn is about what Digital Equipment Corp is valued at in the market these days, which suggests that Compaq could comfortably pay for the company with a mixture of cash and shares. Compaq also increased its inventory turns to 6.5 times from 12.4 times a quarter and decreased its days of sales outstanding to 53 from 60. These excellent results contributed to fourthquarter return on invested capital of 59% providing a continued increase in shareholder value, chief financial officer Earl Mason said, adding that the company expects to outpace estimates of 15% to 20% personal computer sales growth in the industry this year. These results reflect an excellent fourth quarter and outstanding year for Compaq, president and chief executive Eckhard Pfeiffer echoed. We’re very pleased with the consistency of our financial progress, especially the improvements in earnings and the growth of gross margins to 24.4% in the fourth quarter. We expect strong growth throughout 1997: we enter 1997 with the strongest, broadest, most Internet-enabled and cost-effective product line in our history. Compaq said it is focused on the high-growth segments of the industry with its Windows NT-based workstation line, an area that is forecast to grow over 40% by the year 2000.