Shorting out

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Are Tech Stocks About to Crash?

We live in an increasingly wired world, where we can stream The Simpsons on our smartphones and toaster ovens remember exactly how we like our “everything” bagels.

However, while the steady march of technology is a sure thing, the profits in tech stocks are anything but.

Consider these recent moves:

  • Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is slightly in the red in the past 30 days, compared with a 3% rise in the broader S&P 500 Index.
  • Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) also is down 3% in the same period.
  • Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) is down more than 2%, too.
  • Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) is down almost 8%.
  • Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is flat. So is Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL).

Add up the market capitalization of those blue-chip tech stocks and you have nearly $1.4 trillion worth of the tech sector that ain’t looking all that hot.

As a result, many tech funds like the iShares Dow Jones US Technology ETF (NYSE:IYW) and the Select Sector Technology SPDR (NYSE:XLK) have lagged the market in the past month despite a very strong September for the broader markets.

So … if you’re heavily invested in tech stocks, should you be running for the exits?


There has been a lot of talk lately about whether Apple is cooked — and while I personally remain long in the stock (for the reasons I outlined on The Slant last week), there are serious concerns about a short-term pullback because of a technical breakdown and on worries the iPhone 5 might not pack as much punch as hoped.

Microsoft is in a similar situation, betting the farm on Windows 8 — which could be a boon to investors if it succeeds, but a disaster if it flops. Same thing for the Windows Phone handset prepped for first-half release in 2013, though I don’t really think anyone truly expects this thing to become another iPhone. Steve Ballmer’s $84 million stock sale also hasn’t inspired confidence.

Then there’s the worries about enterprise spending remaining sluggish, hurting companies like Cisco and Oracle, as well as MSFT. Just recently we saw Oracle’s earnings up but top line down — par for the course in the tech sector, and a trend that won’t end well if revenue doesn’t turn around soon.

Amazon continues to burn cash big-time on its Kindle gamble, and the nosebleed valuation gives many pause despite the swagger of Jeff Bezos & Co. After all, it only takes a slip to a “reasonable” forward P/E of 55 or so to slash the price in half. To say nothing of recent reports that more than half of Americans already own tablets — so you have to wonder how many consumers are still shopping for a device or willing to upgrade to a new gadget. The market isn’t as wide-open as it was before — a risk that will weigh on Apple stock as well as AMZN.

Then you have the secular trend of the post-PC age damaging desktop and laptop businesses of Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) over the last year or two, and chipmaker Intel as a result.

Sure, tech has been on a tear in 2012. It’s also worth noting that in the face of these September rollbacks, there have been some very bright spots in blue-chip tech stocks, too.

IBM (NYSE:IBM) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) are both up nicely in the last 30 days — 8% and 11%, respectively.

But you have to wonder whether this kind of growth can continue, especially in the face of slowing earnings. Intel guided down last quarter, a recent August report on chip sales forecasts more pain for both semiconductor stocks and the broader tech sector. After all, as early as May, Cisco’s CEO warned that macro troubles were weighing on tech spending trends.

I’m not saying we are going to turn our smartphones into ploughshares here and pull the plug on tech completely. Technology remains an integral part of the global economy, and tech stocks remain important parts of any diversified portfolio.

But it’s worth wondering if the tech sector could see some short-term headwinds. If the fiscal cliff stuff goes badly, if earnings season is sluggish like many analysts expect and if the macro picture does show further signs of trouble (case in point: recent GDP numbers), we could see a return to health care, consumer staples and utilities as investors turtle up and get defensive.

To sum it up: 2012’s new gadgets are great. But tech stocks might not be in Q4.

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Jeff Reeves is the editor of and the author of “The Frugal Investor’s Guide to Finding Great Stocks.” Write him at or follow him on Twitter via @JeffReevesIP. As of this writing, he held a long position in Apple but no other stocks named here.

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