QQQuestionable anniversary for Nasdaq

It was ten years ago that the QQQ exchange-traded fund began trading ... and nine years ago today that the Nasdaq peaked. Are there tech bargains now?

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By Paul R. La Monica, CNNMoney.com editor at large

The QQQ, or Cubes, turned 10 on March 10, 2009. The tech-heavy ETF had a great first year. But it's been dragged down along with the broader market ever since.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Got an interesting press release this morning from the Nasdaq OMX Group, which runs the Nasdaq stock exchange.

The folks at the Nasdaq were happy to point out that today, March 10, is the ten-year anniversary of PowerShares QQQ, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks the Nasdaq-100 index, the 100 largest non-financial stocks on the Nasdaq. There are a lot of tech stocks in that group.

In the press release, there was a lot celebratory gushing about how the QQQ (QQQQ), or the Cubes as it is commonly known in trader-speak, has become one of the most actively-traded securities in the world.

But while some at the Nasdaq apparently want to party like it's 1999, I think it's worth pointing out that the release omitted some telling facts. Shares of the Cubes are worth about half as much now as when they closed on their first day of trading ten years ago.

What's more, March 10 is also the date of a more important - and dubious - Nasdaq anniversary: Nine years ago the tech-laden index closed at its all-time high of 5048.62.

The Nasdaq closed Monday at 1268.64, 75% percent below the March 10, 2000 peak.

With that in mind, it's QQQuestionable if this is really a day the Nasdaq should be celebrating as a "milestone event." Another editor here joked that it's more like a "millstone event."

The Cubes, not surprisingly, have performed miserably during the recession. This year alone, the QQQ has already declined nearly 13.5%, and only 16 stocks in it are up year-to-date. Over the past 12 months, just six Nasdaq-100 components have eked out a positive return.

Still, all is not lost for fans of tech stocks. As I pointed out in a column last week, some blue-chip tech firms, such as Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) and Qualcomm (QCOM, Fortune 500), have bounced back from the dot-com burst and are up sharply during the past decade.

Other techs that have held up well are software makers Adobe (ADBE) and Symantec (SYMC, Fortune 500), as well as graphics chip companyNvidia (NVDA). Each has enjoyed a triple-digit percentage gain in the past ten years. And video game developer Activision Blizzard (ATVI) has skyrocketed more than 1,000% since the Cubes started trading.

Several other non-tech constituents of the QQQ have also posted solid returns in the past ten years - despite the current recession.

Shares of Hansen Natural (HANS), the maker of the popular Monster Energy line of beverages, have been on a caffeine-fueled tear, surging nearly 6,850% in the past decade. Stericycle (SRCL), a medical waste disposal firm, has soared more than 1,350% in the past ten years.

In fact, 55 of the stocks currently in the QQQ are up since March 10, 1999. To be fair though, this is not a true apples-to-apples comparison. Many of the companies in the QQQ at the height of the tech bubble have been taken over while others, such as MCI WorldCom, Adelphia and Excite AtHome, went bankrupt.

But the fact that not all techs have been crushed in the past decade does show that there are still some quality companies out there - for savvy investors willing to ride out the inevitable booms and busts. And with many high quality tech stocks getting cheaper by the day, there do appear to be some compelling bargains.

Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), for example, now trades at just 14 times 2009 earnings estimates. Shares of Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) trade for only 7 times fiscal 2009 profit forecasts while IBM (IBM, Fortune 500) is valued at a forward price-to-earnings ratio of only 9. And BlackBerry maker Research in Motion (RIMM) sports a P/E of just 10, using estimates for this fiscal year.

All four companies are profitable and are expected, as of now, to report earnings growth this year. So there are some techs out there worth owning if you can stomach the risk and volatility.

Shameless plug alert: Before I started writing The Buzz, I covered the media business for several years at CNNMoney.com. Some of this reporting is the basis of a book I've written about News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch called Inside Rupert's Brain, which will be published on March 19 by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA).  To top of page

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