The trouble with tech stocks

tech, Nasdaq, investing, Apple, Google By Paul R. La Monica, assistant managing editor


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Sure, it's still early in the first quarter earnings "season." But so far, tech stocks are not living up to their potential.

Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) earnings missed expectations by a few pennies per share last week, and the stock plunged 8%.

paul_lamonica_morning_buzz2.jpg

Chip leader Texas Instruments (TXN, Fortune 500) disappointed after the closing bell Monday. Profits were below forecasts as the Japan earthquake took its toll on TI factories there. Guidance for the second quarter wasn't too inspiring either.

And hard drive maker Seagate (STX) reported a bigger-than-expected drop in quarterly profits Tuesday morning. Both stocks fell Tuesday.

There's even a growing sense of ennui about Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500). The iEverything maker is expected to report spectacular results after the bell Wednesday. Analysts are forecasting a more than 60% jump in earnings per share and a nearly 75% increase in sales.

If history is any guide, Apple will probably blow away those estimates by a wide margin. Yet, shares of Apple are down 4% since the start of April.

What gives? As is often the case with tech, the group may be simply suffering from high expectations.

Google, for example, can only be considered a letdown in a relative sense. Net income was up 17% from last year. Sales surged 27%.

"With Google, it's hard to find fault with their revenue growth. It was just expenses ramping up and hurting earnings," said John Lutz, senior research analyst with Frost Investment Advisors in San Antonio. "That might not wind up being the case with many other tech companies."

Lutz said his firm owns stakes in Google, software giant Oracle and wireless chip leader Qualcomm.

So let's not start playing a funeral dirge for Google -- or the entire sector -- just yet.

According to data from FactSet Research, analysts are expecting year-over-year revenue growth of 12% for the tech sector in the first quarter. The only two sectors that are predicted to post higher growth rates are energy and materials.

Investors got a better sense of how tech did in the first quarter (and more importantly how it may perform for the rest of the year) when a trio of top techs reported after the bell Tuesday.

Dow components Intel and IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) released their results, as did struggling online media firm Yahoo.

Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500), a company that has confounded investors by somehow remaining a turnaround story for more than five years, reported yet another drop in sales and profits from a year ago. But the stock rose after hours as sales guidance was in line with forecasts.

But Intel (INTC, Fortune 500), despite concerns about sluggish demand for personal computers as tablets eat into PC sales, reported profits and sales that topped forecasts. The chip leader also issued a healthy sales outlook for the second quarter.

Big Blue, thanks to a weak dollar and a diversified mix of tech businesses, reported solid sales and earnings gains. It also lifted guidance for 2011.

So despite some hiccups, tech earnings are still likely to be fairly strong. Investors should also not lose sight of the fact that merger activity in tech has picked up, and that this trend is likely to continue.

In just the past few weeks, TI announced it was buying chip rival National Semiconductor (NSM) while eBay (EBAY, Fortune 500) agreed to scoop up GSI Commerce (GSIC). Both deals were done with hefty takeover premiums.

Finally, most of the larger techs are trading at incredibly reasonable valuations.

Intel trades for less than 10 times 2011 earnings estimates while IBM is valued at only 12.5 times 2011 earnings estimates. Apple and Google both trade at P/E ratios of about 15.

If there's a tech bubble anywhere, it's with private hotshots Facebook and Groupon and smaller public dot-comes like Netflix (NFLX) and OpenTable (OPEN). The megacap techs look like screaming bargains by comparison.

-- The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul R. La Monica. Other than Time Warner, the parent of CNNMoney, and Abbott Laboratories, La Monica does not own positions in any individual stocks.  To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,804.71 -238.19 -1.40%
Nasdaq 4,422.09 -71.30 -1.59%
S&P 500 1,946.16 -26.13 -1.32%
Treasuries 2.40 -0.10 -4.19%
Data as of 9:07pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.82 -0.23 -1.35%
Ford Motor Co 14.59 -0.20 -1.34%
Facebook Inc 76.55 -2.49 -3.15%
Apple Inc 99.18 -1.57 -1.56%
Cisco Systems Inc 25.03 -0.18 -0.72%
Data as of 4:03pm ET

Sections

In the last five years, pumpkin sales have risen 34% as people demand pumpkin in everything from beer to beef jerky. More

Facebook's chief product officer issued an apology to Sister Roma and the drag community on Wednesday for its flawed 'real name' policy. More

New York City launches a comprehensive site for all things related to its digital tech scene, Digital.NYC. More

For these seniors, the best retirement is not to retire. From a 102-year-old Wal-Mart worker to an activist park ranger, these workers have stayed on the job well into their golden years. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.