Technology > Tech Biz
No fun for the bears
As this column's record in the first six months shows, momentum has a lot of power.
July 1, 2003: 2:23 PM EDT
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money Senior Writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's the first of July. So Happy Canada Day for our friendly neighbors to the north.

But for those of us not planning to celebrate national pride for another three days, July 1 is a time to look back on the first six months of the year.

This column has had its share of stock picks since I started writing it in February. So it's fair to do some navel-gazing at the midyear point. Or to quote the lovable former New York City Mayor Ed Koch: "How'm I doin'?"

Being bearish didn't pay

It's tough being a skeptic when tech stocks are riding a monstrous wave of momentum. Simply put, most of the stocks that I have been bullish about have gone up since I wrote about them. But most of the stocks that I panned (usually because of rich valuations) have gone up too.

In February, for example, I expressed some doubts about whether big storage stocks EMC, Network Appliance and Veritas Software could continue to surge. Since then, EMC has tacked on another 33.9 percent, Network Appliance has shot up 47 percent, and Veritas has soared 64 percent. Ouch.

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A month later, I wrote a column about Internet stocks and even declared that a new Internet bubble was in the making. Well, eBay, and Yahoo! have gained 15.4 percent, 30.8 percent and 34 percent respectively since I called their valuations "absurd" on March 27.

Finally, even though I raved about online DVD rental site Netflix's service in an April column, I said that the stock was overpriced and due for a pullback. So far that call is looking like about as big a flop as the new Charlie's Angels movie. Netflix has continued to soar, up 24 percent.

Not all was lost

Fortunately, I did make some good calls as well, so this won't be just an exercise in self-flagellation. In early March, I wrote a fairly positive column on struggling computer maker Gateway, a contrarian call if there ever was one.

At the time, the stock was trading at just $2.24 a share, even though the company had more than $2.70 in net cash per share. Gateway has since rallied to $3.65, a 63 percent gain.

Adobe is up nearly 20 percent since I wrote in March about how the company should be able to fend off Microsoft in the graphic software and document-creating software markets.

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And two companies I dubbed tech bargains in a mid-May column, Qualcomm and Electronic Arts, each have gained about 20 percent.

Some negative columns have panned out as well. Three of the stocks I mentioned in a late February column about short selling -- BMC Software, Cree and Microchip Technology -- are lower now than they were at the time, certainly worth noting considering how well tech stocks have done in the past few months. And a fourth stock that I mentioned as a short selling target was Oracle, which is relatively flat since the column was published.

And Roxio, the software company that is trying to resurrect Napster as a legal site for music downloads, surged in May thanks mainly to hype surrounding the initial success of Apple's iTunes music store. At the time, I thought Roxio, at about $8, was way ahead of itself. Shares have since pulled back to $6.50.

Ultimately, I don't think any of these picks can be judged by its performance over a few weeks or months, and that investors still should be cautious.

The jury's still out on whether this rally's for real. Momentum can carry techs only so far. Valuations still matter.

Remember the beginning of 2000? It seemed silly to be a tech bear back then. The Nasdaq surged 24 percent between the end of 1999 and March 10, 2000. It was looking as if 2000 would be an even better year than 1999, when the Nasdaq rose an astonishing 85.6 percent.

Strangely enough, some investors have already forgotten what happened next.

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