Telecom stocks are emblematic of how skittish investors are over the tech sector today. Some telecom giants are taking a beating over reduced consumer demand for their products, both here in the U.S. and abroad (especially around the once-robust Pacific Rim).
Here's a quick snapshot . . .
AT&T Inc fell $.34 or 1.1 percent, to $31.22.
Qwest rose $.06 or 1.6 percent, to $3.71.
Sprint Nextel rose $.10 or 1.4 percent, to $7.24.
Verizon fell $.52 or 1.5 percent, to $34.21.
AT&T and Apple are the stocks that interests me. Apple - whose iPhone is carried exclusively by AT&T -- has had a listless training session. That surprised me given the good news from Apple that it is fixing a much-touted glitch in its iPhone that should help stop dropped calls, lengthen its battery life, and provide better performance. Early reviews on the fix from Apple message boards across the web have been generally positive, especially with feedback touting faster performance. The fix also improves the iPhone's text-messaging component - a bug in the ear of iPhone users over the past few months. You'd think that investors, especially tech investors, would ride that bit of good news into a share bump for both AT&T and Apple.
Didn't happen. Apple also saw its share fall by about $2 during early afternoon trading, showing that its own investors either weren't impressed by the glitch patch-up or shrugged it off as a non-event on an otherwise sluggish trading day.
Too bad, because Apple, especially, could use a break. 2008 hasn't been kind to Apple shareholders, with the company's stock declining by 34% just from January through March. That's primarily due to a downward trend in the entire technology sector and that fact that Apple, which historically charges more than its competitors for its product and services, isn't a popular pick for budget-busted consumers so far this year.
But Apple being Apple, I'm not bearish on the stock. The company's fundamentals are solid; it's sitting on a pile of cash, and Steve Jobs, despite internet rumors to the contrary, isn't gravely ill and looks like he's going to stay with Apple for the long haul. I've always said that stable management is perhaps the biggest priority for skeptical investors. It sends a message of strength to Wall Street when a company can say that it's had the same leader at the helm for 10 years or more and that the leader isn't going anywhere soon.
So when Apple bottomed out at $119 in March, before the new iPhone came out, I wasn't too worried. Good thing, because the stock has rallied and is trading around $148 these days. Its P/E (price-to-earnings) ratio is at 33.58, which is about twice as much as its closest competitor. It routinely outpaces analyst expectations (Apple has beaten expectations for the last 10 quarters in a row) and the company has the most loyal customer base of any business I know.
Maybe there will be a delayed bounce-back on Monday as news of the fix makes its way around the world. For the sake of AT&T and Apple, let's hope so.