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While most people are focused on tomorrow's holiday, let's take a look back at the year that was. And what a year it was!
STORY OF THE YEAR: Technology's rebound.
How did you do in the market this year? If you bought tech stocks in the first part of 2003, chances are you made out pretty well. It's been a while since I could say that, but there it is.
Take a look at this (very partial) list of tech stocks that had more than doubled as of press time: Amazon (AMZN: Research, Estimates), Cisco (CSCO: Research, Estimates), CNET (CNET: Research, Estimates), EMC Corp. (EMC: Research, Estimates), E-Trade, Intel (INTC: Research, Estimates), Red Hat (RHAT: Research, Estimates), and Yahoo! (YHOO: Research, Estimates).
Prognosticators -- including me at times -- are proclaiming that we're seeing the beginning of Internet 2.0, when some of the promise that was wildly over-hyped in the 1990s will finally happen. Quite a few tech stocks, such as Ask Jeeves (ASKJ: Research, Estimates), CNET, and SCO Group (SCOX: Research, Estimates), are up several fold this year (SCO, for example, is up from a buck and change to nearly $20). This leads to our next topic.
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COROLLARY STORY OF THE YEAR: Irrational exuberance returns to the market.
Remember when all a company had to do to see its stock price pop was issue a press release containing the words "Linux" or "B2B"?
It appears that some of that magic tonic is back in the mix. Some of the new key phrases are "paid search results" and "planned Chinese expansion." Hey, I'm bullish overall on tech stocks, but when I see the gains enjoyed by some companies, I can't help but shake my head and cluck that I know how this movie ends.
MAN OF THE YEAR: Steve Jobs.
Some of the more maniacal posters to the sundry Apple-related message boards will probably choke when they read this, but Jobs has done some key things right this year. Apple (AAPL: Research, Estimates) validated and dominated a new product category with its iPod device, and led the music industry by the hand into the 21st century via its iTunes Music Store. Nice job.
WOMAN OF THE YEAR: Meg Whitman.
Whitman is an operational genius, keeping the leading online auctioneer at the top of its game. eBay (EBAY: Research, Estimates) has furthered its efforts to allow members to buy and sell in a variety of ways (as opposed to auctions only), and continues its march toward becoming the perfect marketplace.
Some analysts have recently expressed concern over eBay's auto category, and the company's current stock price and astronomical price/earnings ratio make it an attractive investment for only the wildly bullish and risk-loving, but underestimate Whitman at your own peril.
COMPANY OF THE YEAR: InterActiveCorp.
Under Barry Diller's masterful hand, InterActiveCorp (IACI: Research, Estimates) quietly became an even bigger online player in 2003. This year alone, the company completed acquisitions of Expedia, Hotels.com, Hotwire, LendingTree, Match.com, and Ticketmaster.
If Diller's quest continues at its current success rate, his company's dominance in online content could one day rival Microsoft's in operating systems. That's still a ways off, but InterActiveCorp got on the map in a big way in 2003. InterActiveCorp is trading well below its 52-week high and below most analysts' mean average price for the company, making it a potential opportunity for tech investors.
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