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Technology > Tech Investor
Nothing but a G thing
Demand for tech still weak? It's all those 'geopolitical' concerns. (Yeah, right.)
February 18, 2003: 1:36 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money Senior Writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) – Tech executives have Hussein on the brain. And it's starting to get ridiculous.

After combing through several press releases and listening to recent conference calls, I noticed a lot of tech CEOs complaining about how their customers would start spending again if only it weren't for those pesky "geopolitical concerns," "geopolitical risks" or "geopolitical uncertainties."

Yes, kids. Those are tidy euphemisms for the Iraq situation. Weak results are a "geopolitical" problem, i.e. something companies can conveniently say is not their fault. "Some tech companies are trying to hide behind Iraq," said Brent Bracelin, a hardware and storage analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

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All the big techs are doing it. Applied Materials, Cisco Systems, EDS and Agilent Technologies each cited the G thing to explain why demand for tech products and services has yet to pick up.

Even small tech sees the power of the excuse. Itsy bitsy Evolve Software, a company with a $1.8 million market cap and a stock price of just $1.59 (after a 1 for 40 reverse stock split no less!), said in its earnings report last week that "we anticipate business conditions will remain challenging due to the impact of current macroeconomic and geopolitical concerns upon our customers."

Holding back because of Iraq?

Is Iraq (or for that matter continued terrorist threats and North Korea) really the reason why companies aren't opening up their wallets to buy all sorts of tech stuff?

That would assume that Corporate America is merely "holding back," that there is this huge pent up demand for PCs, servers, software and routers that will be unleashed if Hussein is removed from power.

But Pip Coburn, global technology strategist for UBS Warburg, doesn't believe it. "Iraq has nothing to do with spending patterns in technology," Coburn observed.

Executives at Dell Computer also aren't whining about Iraq. When the company reported record sales and earnings last week, Michael Dell said that customers were not telling him they couldn't spend until the Iraq saga was over.

Coburn says the biggest problems facing technology are more macroeconomic in nature, namely that there is still a glut of high-tech gadgets that companies binged on during the late 1990s and early 2000.

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While it's true that a lot of equipment that companies bought in anticipation of Y2K is starting to get a little long in the tooth, that does not mean that a quick war in Iraq is going to lead to some magical upgrade cycle.

Does anyone honestly think that, say, the CFO of General Electric is going to decide once Operation Desert Storm Part 2 ends that it's suddenly prudent to buy new PCs equipped with 64-bit Itanium chips and Windows XP for all 310,000 of its employees?

Companies will probably remain cautious since there is no urgent need to upgrade tech systems just yet. It's not as if a three-year, 11-month-old server is going to turn into a pumpkin on midnight of its fourth birthday.

The tech spending recovery will begin once big businesses feel that they have to upgrade on tech or risk losing a competitive edge, not with a regime change in Baghdad.  Top of page

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