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The Tech Biz report card
I'm making a list and checking it twice. Criticizing Google was naughty but praising Apple was nice.
December 23, 2004: 1:16 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's that most wonderful -- or awful -- time of the year: time for me to take a look back at this column's stock picks.

Some calls make me bust out in an ear-to-ear Cheshire cat grin while others have me slapping my head with an anguished Munch-like scream.

I did a mid-year review of picks from January through July. So for the sake of brevity, I'll only highlight a couple of the year's earliest columns so I can focus on picks from the last half of 2004.

One of my best early calls was on wireless tower stocks in January. Wall Street was down on companies that operate antennas for big wireless carriers following the Cingular-AT&T Wireless merger announcement. But since that late January column, the average gain for the four publicly traded tower stocks is 67 percent.

My biggest blunder was touting disk drive stocks, on the hopes that increased consolidation would lead to more rational pricing. Didn't turn out as planned. The three major disk drive stocks are off 29 percent, on average.

A quick review of some other first half picks shows some nice decisions, such as a tout of Qualcomm (Research) (up 43 percent) in March and a critical look at Novell (Research) and Red Hat (Research) (down 24 percent and 46 percent, respectively) in May .

But there were some questionable calls as well, such as a prediction that Intuit (Research) would surge after April 15 (it's been flat) and that Veritas (Research) was undervalued. It's also been flat despite Symantec's (Research) recent deal to buy the company.

Anyway, here's a closer look at some second-half picks.

A Google gaffe

Tech stocks took off in mid-August, so nearly all my bearish stock picks from the second half turned out to be bad calls while bullish ones have worked.

To wit, a column in July suggesting that shares of Indian outsourcing firms had run their course did not pan out well. The four major publicly traded companies in this sector are up an average of 56 percent since.

I thought shares of Google would face a rocky road after the IPO. I was wrong.  
I thought shares of Google would face a rocky road after the IPO. I was wrong.

But a column later that month saying that cable stocks had bottomed was prescient. Comcast (Research) is up 13 percent while Cablevision (Research) is up 36 percent. And Cox gained 25 percent before it was acquired and taken private.

Then there's Google (Research). Ouch. Before its initial public offering, I suggested investors steer clear on concerns about valuation and volatility that could occur once insiders were allowed to sell. Did I say ouch? Google is up 120 percent from its offering price.

The iPod machine

Fortunately, I wasn't a complete tech IPO bear.

I told investors to keep an eye on chip company PortalPlayer (Research) after it filed for an IPO in August because the company made processors for a little device called the iPod. Shares are up 42 percent since the IPO last month. And a competitor that I also said was worth watching, SigmaTel (Research), has surged nearly 130 percent since that column.

It has been sweet music for Apple investors thanks to the iPod's success.  
It has been sweet music for Apple investors thanks to the iPod's success.

Speaking of the iPod, Apple (Research) has more than doubled since I said in late August that the stock still had room to run. (I did suggest earlier this month, however, that Apple investors should now consider taking some money off the table, and the stock has fallen about 5 percent since.)

Some columns on once out-of-favor sectors and companies have turned out nicely. A positive piece on telecom stocks in mid-August has made me happy. The seven stocks I looked at are up an average of 12 percent.

And my praise of Sun Microsystems (Research) in September for emphasizing its software business has paid off handsomely. Shares are up nearly 30 percent.

Radio, what's new? Someone still loves you.

But I've had mixed results with calls on Internet stocks. I called the surge in online travel newsletter Travelzoo (Research) "ludicrous." The stock has since gained another 40 percent, proving that the only thing ludicrous was my misjudgment of the momentum behind this stock.

Howard and Mel have helped Sirius soar. Too bad I said, XM was the better buy.  
Howard and Mel have helped Sirius soar. Too bad I said, XM was the better buy.

I redeemed myself a few weeks later by saying that eBay (Research), despite a heady run of its own, was "the one tech stock that investors can buy today, store away in their portfolio, and not lose any sleep over for the next few years." The stock is up about 28 percent since then.

Now it's time for a big dose of humble pie. I told readers in late September that, even though I was wary of the valuations of the two publicly traded satellite radio companies, if you had to buy one, XM Satellite Radio (Research) was the way to go.

Shares of XM are up 33 percent since then. But smaller rival Sirius Satellite Radio (Research) has been a Wall Street stud thanks to its signing of shock-jock Howard Stern and hiring of former Viacom COO Mel Karmazin to be its new CEO. Shares of Sirius are up 164 percent since that column.

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A bullish call on some Chinese tech stocks in late October has worked out so far. The six stocks mentioned in the column are up an average of 20 percent.

But a bearish column about Roxio, since renamed Napster (Research), in early November has me wanting to legally download a mournful dirge. Shares are up 36 percent since I said the stock was due for a pullback.

And that's it. I think it's too soon to look at some of my predictions from late November and this month.

Still, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the absolute worst call I made all year in this column...picking the Yankees to beat the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Sigh. Congrats to all you long-suffering New Englanders.

Happy Holidays to all and best wishes for a profitable 2005.

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