With the stock market down 300 points, once again thanks to high oil prices (now over $140 per barrel), technology stocks should be directly in the line of fire. But they’re not – and some big shot investors think the technology sector might even be a good defensive stop-gap until the economy rebounds.
Take Diane Garnick, a fund manager at Invesco, a firm with over $500 billion in assets under management. She made the case for tech stocks today on the Tech Talk pod cast, arguing that, in a tough economy, companies will look to technology to help them cut costs. But not all the news was so rosy – Garnick thinks that companies like Research in Motion and Apple could suffer if consumers start looking at their pricey iPhones and Blackberries as discretionary items that they don’t really need in a tough economic climate.
There is a good outlook for tech right now,” says Garnick. “It should do well as the economy slows down. You have to think is technology is really a defensive sector and yes, it us. As revenues come down the number one thing that CEO’s want to do is decrease their cost, including employees. And the best way to replace employees is with technology.”
Consumers, on the other hand, are hunkering down and avoiding buying the kids of products that RIM, Apple, and other high-end technology companies make.
“RIMM‘s stock is falling because the consumer is really hurting,” she adds. “Discretionary products, like a Blackberry upgrade, will have to wait. People want to know that they have job security before investing in a new iPhone or a new Blackberry.”
Part of the problem for tech companies in the high-end retail market, is that due to the weak dollar, the cost of making their products (usually handled overseas) has grown higher. Consequently, they are getting squeezed on both ends, caught between higher costs in production overseas and sluggish consumer interest back here at home.
“RIMM is suffering from a weak dollar, as most of their products are made overseas,” says Garnick. “What is really key is that as the dollar becomes it gets more difficult for companies who build overseas to keep up. All of those parts coming in from foreign markets are hurting RIMM. Of course, with 50% of their revenues coming from overseas. Tech companies can absorb some of the blows a bit better, especially companies like RIMM, Dell and Apple.”
The key takeaway from Garnick? That for perhaps the first time ever, technology stocks have earned a reputation as a viable defensive strategy that investors can turn to when the economy slows. I hadn’t heard that argument in a while, but it’s one that is beginning to make sense.