December 31, 2009 / 4:39 PM / 8 years ago

Phones, PCs to drive tech rally into 2010

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - As technology companies make their annual trek to Las Vegas to unveil their coolest gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, investors are laying bets on another good year for the industry.

The mood at CES 2010 should be far more buoyant than in early 2009, when the economy was deep in recession and financial markets reeled from the credit crisis.

Tech stocks have since recovered, with the Nasdaq Composite Index ending 2009 up more than 40 percent, near a 15-month high. Analysts say stronger corporate IT spending, an explosion of activity around smartphones and mobile computing, plus consolidation, should further bolster the sector in 2010.

Broadpoint AmTech analyst Brian Marshall predicted a climb of roughly 15 percent in the Nasdaq in 2010, noting that some of the good news was already factored in to stock valuations.

“It’s going to be tough to find areas that won’t do well next year,” Marshall said.

Topping the list for many sell-side analysts are perennial blue-chip favorites like Google Inc, Apple Inc, Cisco Systems Inc and Intel Corp.

But with economic recovery slowly taking root and companies starting to upgrade their IT systems again, analysts say 2010 will offer tech investors a wide range of opportunities.

Microsoft Corp’s latest Windows 7 operating system should help spur sales of personal computers, with research group IDC forecasting double-digit PC shipment growth through 2013. Top PC makers Hewlett-Packard Co, Acer Inc and Dell Inc could be a way for investors to capitalize on that trend, analysts say.

Many like data storage giant EMC Corp as a way to play the anticipated uptick in corporate spending, along with its software unit VMware Inc.

FBR Capital Markets analyst Daniel Ives is recommending “defensive stocks with offensive characteristics” because of uncertainty about the strength and pace of recovery in 2010. He likes EMC, infrastructure software maker Citrix Systems Inc, and security software names McAfee Inc and Symantec Corp.

CHIPS STRONG

With a more stable economy, investors’ risk appetite should be higher than a year ago. But given the rise in valuations, the question is how much run the tech rally has left.

Tech stocks are trading in line with other growth sectors, such as materials, at around 16-1/2 times forward earnings, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine. Tech’s price-to-earnings growth (PEG) ratio, however, is less attractive for investors, badly trailing materials.

The XLK, which tracks S&P 500 tech stocks, recently cleared a key resistance level and could be aiming for 2007 highs next year, which would be a near 25 percent gain from current levels.

Chipmakers in particular enter the new year riding a wave of positive sentiment. Despite a jump of around 70 percent in the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index in 2009, many believe the sector could be poised for more gains next year.

Gartner expects 2010 worldwide semiconductor revenue to rise 13 percent and rebound to 2008 levels, driven by PCs.

“Demand has been good, inventories are lean and we have a number of areas that are starting to recover,” said Canaccord Adams analyst Robert Burleson.

He pointed to companies with their own chipmaking facilities -- Intel, ON Semiconductor Corp, Fairchild Semiconductor and Analog Devices Inc -- as being particularly well-situated for 2010 due to cost-cutting.

Burleson said PCs make up roughly one-third of overall chip revenue, but noted that demand in less-flashy areas like automotive and medical equipment is also coming back.

Other analysts recommend graphics chipmaker Nvidia Corp and Marvell Technology Group Ltd, whose chips are used in storage products, as another way to benefit from a surge in PC sales.

SMARTPHONE STRENGTH

As computing becomes ever more mobile, smartphones will continue to be a hot area. CES should provide a showcase for more devices, while Google is widely expected to unveil the first Google-branded phone on January 5.

Gartner expects the smartphone market to grow to 525 million units in 2012 from 179 million in 2009.

Apple’s iPhone and a growing universe of devices based on Google’s Android mobile software dominated much of the conversation in 2009. Stumbles by Research in Motion Ltd took the shine off the BlackBerry maker, while Palm Inc’s Pre-led recovery hit a stumbling block.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Ronald Gruia likes Google, Apple and Samsung Electronics Co Ltd in the smartphone race. He said Google is the biggest potential star, but is skeptical about revival efforts at cellphone makers Nokia, Motorola Inc and Palm.

Gruia said Nokia needs to innovate in operating systems, while Motorola may be too closely tied to the Android platform, and Palm will have to spend to attract new customers.

The rapid rise in data usage on mobile networks is pushing carriers to upgrade wired broadband connections to cell towers, providing demand for so-called backhaul equipment providers such as Alcatel Lucent, Gruia added.

Reporting by Gabriel Madway, editing by Tiffany Wu and Matthew Lewis

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