If 2011 Was a Year to Forget, 2012 Looks Like More of the Same
If 2011 was a year to forget for investors in large IT companies, then 2012 doesn’t look to be much better, says ISI analyst Brian Marshall in a note to clients today. Lots of tech stocks ended the year lower.
Of the companies in Marshall’s coverage universe, only Apple, IBM and Dell had positive returns and saw their shares rise by an average of 20 percent. By contrast, the three biggest decliners were Hewlett-Packard, Juniper and NetApp. (For the record, the others Marshall covers are Brocade, EMC, VMware, Cisco Systems and F5 Networks.)
One thing the advancers had that the decliners didn’t? Conservative guidance. “The importance of conservative guidance practices was underscored as investors had little tolerance for companies that could not execute on stated growth targets,” Marshall writes. HP, NetApp and Juniper all set out aggressive earnings goals that proved too optimistic. Per-share earnings estimates for the coming year among those three were revised downward by an average of 15 percent.
By comparison, Apple, IBM and Dell set lower barriers and ended up having positive earnings surprises, and have moved up their forward earnings estimates by about 17 percent. “Setting conservative targets will again remain critical in 2012,” Marshall writes.
So what’s going to set the tone for tech stocks in 2012? A lot of the same things that made 2011 so difficult. Sovereign debt concerns in Europe, coupled with governments around the world implementing austerity measures to help get their budgets back on track, will hammer IT spending at companies that sell to governments.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be positive trends to look for. Certain megatrends in computing will sail on, despite the rough economic waters. “Cloud computing and mobile internet remain firmly in place and can drive outperformance for companies positively exposed,” Marshall says in his note.
The growth in mobile clients like smartphones and tablets will spur ever more rich and complex computing environments in the cloud, meaning more and better data centers packing more computing power into the same or smaller footprint. Marshall mentions microservers, which brings to mind HP’s Project Moonshot, which aims to create dense racks of small servers, as an important trend to watch. “We think many data centers could look to microserver solutions that deliver thousands of cores in a rack and order of magnitude improvements in performance/power,” writes Marshall. These microservers, he says, could be powered by both x86 chips from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, or by ARM-based chips.
And since there will be more servers — all of them virtualized, allowing one single server to act like dozens or even hundreds of servers, plus increased demands for storage and video — they will require higher-performing connections. That’s going to push companies building data centers to adopt Ethernet fabrics. On top of that, more companies build servers that support faster 10 gigabit Ethernet. Marshall argues that these Ethernet fabrics could constitute as much as one-third of the $6 billion market for data center switching within three years.
Then there’s big data. With more information than they know what to do with scattered all over the place, companies are struggling to make sense of it all. Large enterprises will be investing in data integration tools to get a unified view of all their information. “We believe organizations will continue investing in data integration tools which can help link historical and real-time data, and enable more valuable business intelligence and predictive analytics,” Marshall writes, adding that the market is worth about $2 billion today, but is in the “early innings of a growth cycle.”
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