For the second time in two months, Compaq Computer Corp. yesterday hit Wall Street with bad news, projecting an unexpected loss for the current quarter. But the company tempered the numbers' impact with promises of a restructuring aimed at cutting $2 billion in annual costs.

Compaq predicted a loss of up to 15 cents a share for the second quarter, ending June 30, compared with the 20-cent profit expected by Wall Street analysts. The official numbers for the Houston company, the world's largest maker of personal computers, will be released in late July.

The news sent Compaq's stock plummeting by as much as 10 percent yesterday, but later in the day it more than recovered, closing at $22.50, up 25 cents, as investors apparently took into account the potential financial benefits of restructuring.

The company's news had little apparent impact on technology stocks in general. The Pacific Stock Exchange Technology Index closed up 2.27 at 568.49.

Analysts said that given the turmoil at Compaq in recent months, yesterday's announcement wasn't entirely a surprise. But they admitted that they hadn't expected the surge in operating expenses that Compaq said had occurred in the current quarter.

Compaq has been taking a beating of late in a market where prices are falling fast; computer systems costing less than $1,000 are increasingly common. It is struggling to keep up with companies such as Dell Computer Corp. that build nothing until they have an order for it, customized right on the production line to the customer's requirements. Compaq's competitors also make heavy use of the Internet as a low-cost sales channel.

Compaq builds most of its computers based on sales projections, sometimes ending up with many unsold units, and relies heavily on stores and other middlemen for distribution. It is also working to digest Digital Equipment Corp., a long-ailing computer maker that it bought for $9.6 billion last June.

Today's announcement makes it two quarters of bad numbers in a row for Compaq. On April 9, it announced that first-quarter profits would be half of what analysts expected. That same month, Compaq ousted chief executive Eckhard Pfeiffer, and chief financial officer Earl Mason quit.

In a conference call yesterday with reporters, Compaq acting chief executive Benjamin M. Rosen attributed the likely losses this quarter to increased pricing pressure in the PC business and to a noncompetitive cost structure and unnecessary complexity in the company's organization.

Compaq executives maintained yesterday that the interim management team has a solid grasp of the company's problems and that the restructuring would "eliminate unnecessary layers of end-to-end alignment" that may have slowed response to consumer needs.

The most fundamental change would be the establishment of three global business groups -- Enterprise Solutions and Service, Personal Computer, and Consumer -- each with a separate, market-driven, profit-and-loss accountability. This would reduce duplication across the groups and ensure that the company is "investing to drive the maximum return," Rosen said.

Compaq gave no timetable for the restructuring, but Rosen predicted that benefits would "begin to materialize over the next two to three quarters." The changes will involve some work force reduction, but executives were unable to say yesterday how many jobs might be lost.

The company will also establish an organization dedicated to managing all of Compaq's e-commerce activities. Michael Capellas, Compaq's acting chief operating officer, said the company recognizes that "e-commerce today drives information technology services" and believes that it will play an increasingly dominant role in the company's revenue.

Some Wall Street analysts remained pessimistic about Compaq executives' ability to turn the company around. Merrill Lynch Global Securities analyst Steven Milunovich yesterday morning advised clients against buying additional Compaq stock, citing a lack of leadership and increasing competition as the major reasons.

Analysts said the proposed new business structure is not radical; it is merely the broad outlines of how the company should be run.

In 1992, Compaq experienced a financial downturn that resulted in the ousting of co-founder Rod Canion as chief executive, as well as a 15 percent reduction in the work force and other cost-cutting, which succeeded in restoring Compaq's competitive standing. While Compaq officials said that situation is not analogous to the present one, it is an example of the company successfully meeting challenges in the market.

Compaq is currently in search of a replacement for Pfeiffer. Rosen said the company has a list of candidates and indicated that "the CEO that we recruit to run this company will be one who is fully sympathetic to the changes that we are making."

CAPTION: UNDER DURESS

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