Brian.oco 0 Posting Whiz

Okay, I was downed by technology issues for a few days but I'm back up with a vengeance.

And just in time, as the major technology companies begin to release their quarterly earnings statements. IBM was first up earlier this week, and easily surpassed analyst expectations. Wall Street attributed Big Blue's earnings growth to overseas sales, especially to the "BRIC" countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Domestically, the jury is still out. If businesses do pull back and spend less, computer companies should be among the first to feel the pinch.

Maybe that's why the stock market fell by 280 points yesterday. Traders can only take so much talk of recessionary fears before they begin selling with the intensity of the Spears' sisters calling for more tequila at last call.

Intel reported this week as well. At first blush, things looked good as quarterly earnings were up 51%. Unfortunately, Wall Street uses a different measuring stick and the consensus was that Intel failed to meet analysts' earning projections. Says the Associated Press on Wednesday "Intel's failure to meet earnings and revenue forecasts for the fourth quarter and its first-quarter projections that came in at the low end of analysts' forecasts weighed on stocks. Earlier this week there was market speculation that the technology sector, which sometimes benefits from a weak dollar and overseas strength, might be able to withstand the weakness sweeping other parts of the economy."

Net income for Intel's holiday-sales-fueled fourth quarter rose to $2.27 billion, or 38 cents per share, from $1.50 billion, or 26 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue advanced 10.5% to $10.7 billion from $9.69 billion. Analysts had expected a profit before items of 40 cents per share, on average, on revenue of $10.8 billion, according to Reuters Estimates. Intel had previously said to expect fourth-quarter revenue of $10.5 billion to $11.1 billion.

Intel said it expects revenue of $9.4 billion to $10.0 billion and a gross margin of 56% for the current quarter, plus or minus a couple of points. Analysts expect first-quarter revenue of $10.0 billion. In the just-reported quarter, Intel had a gross margin of 58%, compared with its forecast of 57%.

As the mixed news from IBM and Intel tell us, things aren't great for the tech sector in the earning season right now -- but aren't as bad as the pessimists would have you believe. That theme was amplified with the announcement that Oracle Corp will buy BEA Systems Inc. for about $7.85 billion. That's good news for the tech sector. Usually, a big rule of thumb in tough economic times is that companies will hold off on big mergers and takeovers and wait for things to heat up again. But Oracle has proven that isn't the case here.

Still, the shadow of recession hangs over the entire economy and not just the technology sector. And analysts are ratcheting down predictions for economic growth. "On Wall Street the talk clearly is about recession," Subodh Kumar, global investment strategist at Subodh Kumar & Assoc., told Yahoo News. "Expectations about earnings are being reduced and analysts have been chasing the earnings down as opposed to be being proactive and having done so earlier."

It may not be until mid-2008 that we see things calm down in the stock market, Kumar adds. "Volatility will probably remain high into midyear because analyst expectations are coming down quite rapidly and we're in the eye of the storm as far as credit write-downs go for banks."

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