Wall Street Beat: A strange, bad week for technology

Technology stocks started the week on a down note but look poised to end in positive territory despite some big hits to companies such as Apple.

The strange part about the week was that there was some really good news for users. The price of oil dipped below US$36 for the first time in years on Thursday, signalling lower gasoline costs for drivers and potentially lower electric bills for data center supervisors.

The decline also appears to bode well for companies such as Apple because as gas prices decline, consumers have more money to spend on new iPhone 3Gs and other gadgets instead, analysts say.

But investors saw things differently, sending stocks down on Thursday on fears the continued drop in oil prices actually means that the world economy is far worse off than previously thought, and falling oil prices mean factories are closing and people are driving less.

Apple shares have fallen 9.9 percent so far this week to $89.43 at the close on the Nasdaq Thursday.

Apple suffered two blows this week, a relatively minor one early on when Goldman Sachs downgraded the company's stock to neutral from buy due to weakening consumer demand, which sent the shares down a bit. Then, a few days later the stock suffered a major blow after Apple announced that its annual keynote at the upcoming Macworld Expo 2009, which runs from Jan. 5 to Jan. 9, would be its last.

And Steve Jobs won't be giving it.

Apple's stock plunged as much as 8.4 percent following the announcement, before finally recovering.

Apple said the main reason for the move is because trade shows are dying.

But Henry Blodget, a former Merrill Lynch analyst turned Internet commentator, put a different spin on it in an article titled, "Time for Apple Fans To Freak Out" on Silicon Alley Insider.

"If this is Apple's last Macworld, which it appears to be, why on earth wouldn't Steve give the final speech? It's called the 'Stevenote,' for goodness sake," wrote Blodget. "And Apple has known for a while that it is moving away from trade shows: It didn't have to wait until the last minute," he added.

Blodget listed a few other reasons, then timidly hit the one investors focused on immediately: maybe Jobs is sick.

The health of Apple's popular leader has been widely discussed since he had a tumor removed from his pancreas in 2004. More recently, concerns were raised after he appeared on stage looking gaunt at the Worldwide Developer's Conference in June. It's the second time people have worried over his appearance at the conference. The other time was in 2006.

After the June appearance, Apple remained mum on the issue until finally putting Jobs himself in touch with a New York Times reporter in late July to clear things up.

This time, the company remained quiet.

This week was also particularly strange for the technology sector because it finally saw its first government-led bailout.

DRAM makers in Taiwan and Germany both heard good news from their governments about cash infusions and other plans to prop them up. Unfortunately, the chip glut that started their demise will likely continue until at least one major DRAM company falls. The quickest way to mop up overproduction is for someone to stop producing.

At least the week may end on a lighter note.

Canadian smartphone maker Research In Motion forecast its revenue will leap to as much as $3.5 billion in the current quarter on the strength of its newly released BlackBerry Storm. In the last quarter, the company's revenue reached $2.78 billion.

Oracle also chimed in with an earnings report that showed its business remained nearly in line with its guidance and saying it continues to take customers from rivals.

Oracle shares leaped 3.7 percent in after-market trading to $17.22 as investors cheered its earnings.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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