Almost a half a decade after the top in the Internet bubble, it finally seems that the leading companies of that era are finally coming back down to earth. A couple of articles have noted the less than stellar operational results and stock price performance of the leading lights of the Internet era. Investors who heeded the advice that, “Old stars don’t lead new bull markets” have been able to avoid this performance pitfall.
Daniel Gross at Slate.com looks at the similiar tales of woe heard from tech titans: Amazon.com (AMZN), Yahoo! (YHOO), EBay (EBAY) and AOL (TWX). While acknowledging that Google (GOOG) has had an effect on each of their businesses, other forces are at work pushing down their respective stock prices.
You can’t blame it all on Google. Each of the horsemen is still a leader in its core business, Google or no Google. But each derives the lion’s share of its revenues from a maturing U.S. market, each is finding profit margins slipping as it tries to diversify, and each has foolishly reached back to tried-and-failed ideas of the dot-com era for salvation.
The broader computer hardware industry is also having to come to terms with a slower growth environment. Pui-Wing Tam, Robert A. Guth and Christopher Lawton in the Wall Street Journal report on the challenges of a systematic slowdown in computer industry revenue.
Some economists argue that the tech industry is still suffering a hangover from its blistering 1990s pace, and that growth will eventually ratchet back up. But market-research firm IDC predicts that information-technology spending by the world’s largest companies is likely to increase just 5% a year between 2005 and 2009, down from the double-digit growth rates of the boom years.
This has forced firms to change the way they go about their business in a number of ways. Including focusing on keeping costs down and fighting for market share oftentimes via acquisitions. In addition many of the companies are now being managed with an eye on shareholder value including initiating and increasing dividends.
This adjustment has brought some dyed-in-the-wool value investors into some of these names. For example, some noted value investors have stepped up in a big way in buying Dell (DELL) shares. Value investors are often criticized for being early, but this is at least an indication that some one is seeing some underlying value in the shares.
There are of course, some signs of hope. Consumer focused technology firms like Apple Computer (APPL) have shown there are ways to maintain revenue and earnings momentum. In addition, innovation has not stopped. David Kirkpatrick at Fortune reports on the next wave of computing innovations that might very well change the way we interact with the world around us.
This post is by no means an recommendation of any of the stocks mentioned herein. What is interesting is that it has taken so long these stocks to adjust to the new reality. Only now can you say that these stocks are now trading, in a general sense, at multiples somewhat in line with market. We cannot say whether this represents a buying opportunity or not, but the discussion is at least worth having.