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Tech: Waiting for the rebound
Rising pump prices could throw a curveball at some big-name tech companies this holiday season.
October 7, 2005: 10:08 AM EDT
by Amanda Cantrell, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The tech sector's hopes for an end-of-year jolt are riding on hot gadgets, old equipment and the Home Shopping Network.

Tech companies usually get a boost in the latter part of the year as PC makers and their suppliers benefit from back-to-school and holiday sales. But this year brought some unanticipated drama that could have a negative impact on the sector in the second half.

"If you looked at the stock market last year, for the first three quarters the market was down and it made it all up in the fourth quarter," said Laura DiDio, an analyst with Boston-based market research firm Yankee Group, adding that the technology sector behaved in much the same way last year.

"I'm hoping we see the same type of rebound this year, but we had a couple of random acts that nobody could have forecasted."

Those random acts -- hurricanes Katrina and Rita, which goosed already rising gas prices -- have forced consumers to cut back.

"If gas prices go up, the consumer is going to be a little tighter than they were," said Robert Johnson, associate director of research for the technology analyst group at Morningstar.

Gadgets boosting growth

Tech stocks seem to reflect a common theme this year: PC makers and other hardware firms, as well as some software makers, have not been on fire, but companies making chips for hot consumer gadgets are enjoying a solid run.

While the broader Nasdaq composite index is down about 3.5 percent for the year, the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index is up about 5 percent.

Dell (down $0.05 to $31.62, Research), the number one PC maker, viewed as solid by many industry analysts, has seen its stock sink nearly 23 percent this year, having missed revenue forecasts last quarter and lowered its guidance for the current quarter.

And while HP (up $0.20 to $27.09, Research) stock has performed well this year, its gains may be due more to Wall Street's take on moves by new CEO Mark Hurd than a reflection of a surge in demand for its products.

Companies like Oracle (down $0.06 to $11.97, Research), which makes database software for corporate customers, and network computing company Sun (down $0.04 to $4.14, Research), have also failed to see big gains in demand this year.

Meanwhile, Apple (down $0.73 to $50.97, Research), on the strength of its iPod, has seen its stock climb from the low $30s to the low $50s as it posted record sales and earnings last quarter.

Chipmaker Texas Instruments (up $0.43 to $30.96, Research), a leading maker of chips for cell phones, has seen its stock climb nearly 23 percent this year on the back of strong sales.

Shares of SanDisk (down $0.32 to $51.60, Research), which makes flash memory cards for digital cameras, cell phones and MP3 players, have soared 80 percent in just three months.

Undoubtedly, PC makers looking for a holiday sales boost are hoping rising energy prices and the storms won't ruin the party.

DiDio noted that customers wary of burning gas on shopping trips can always shop online or from home shopping channels -- an outlet she says computer makers use heavily during the holidays.

"They can do this (high) volume by offering some phenomenal deals where they give away software titles, free printers, years of service and support -- and these home shopping networks can make it the value of the day," a distinction she said can lead to sales of 30,000 units from one appearance.

Gadget growth driving spending

Johnson said two companies that have gotten a big boost from the growth in flash memory chips are SanDisk, as well as its smaller competitor Lexar.

Analysts are less optimistic on the corporate front, in part because they think corporations may be nearing the end of a restocking cycle for equipment like servers and new computers.

"Companies used the stock of equipment they bought back in the bubble years; they pushed as far as they could and then realized they had to do some restocking," said Andrew Bartels, technology analyst at Boston-based Forrester Research.

Bartels predicted a slowdown in tech spending in the last part of the year, not only because of the slowing growth in the restocking trend, but also because of concerns about oil and energy prices.

"It's not causing companies to stop investing but it is causing them to be a little cautious," Bartels said.

Flash memory stocks are soaring: click here for more.

Click here to see some hot gadgets for the holidays.

None of the analysts quoted in this story own shares of the companies mentioned, and their firms do not have banking ties to the company.  Top of page

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