Wall Street Beat: Clouds loom for IT despite holiday break

The U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is bringing momentary relief to weary IT investors, but forecasts of flat sales or absolute declines for semiconductors, mobile devices and online commerce mean that it will be a while before the clouds lift from the tech sector.

The Nasdaq, home to many IT companies, closed Wednesday at 1532, up by 67 points, or 4.6 percent. Market observers said investors took advantage of low prices of tech company shares to snap up what they hope will be bargains. The U.S. markets will be closed on Thursday and have an abbreviated trading day Friday.

Several high-profile tech vendors had a good day on the market Wednesday. Top advancers on the Nasdaq included Cisco Systems, which rose 5.2 percent to US$16.23. A day earlier, the company said it would close plants over the holiday period to save money, leading to a broad tech-sector sell-off as concerns about faltering demand weighed on investors. Shares of Apple climbed nearly 4 percent to $94.35.

Up until Wednesday, however, the Nasdaq Composite Index stood at about half the level it was at in November last year, and historical perspective shows that it will take time before confidence is restored to the tech sector. The Nasdaq reached it highest point ever, 5048, in the first quarter of 2000, and slid for more than two years before hitting the 1110 level in the trough of the dot-com bust in the third quarter of 2002.

Market observers point out that the slump earlier this decade was marked by actual declines in IT spending, rather than merely a slowdown in growth. As bad as the economy is, many industry analysts have not forecast an absolute, across-the-board drop in spending -- yet.

For example, this week IDC analyst Gard Little said in a research report that "services spending will not contract as it did in the previous economic downturn, however the effects of the current economic crisis will reduce spending growth in the services market across the entire forecast period."