Wall Street Beat: IT crawls to end of a tough year

Though Amazon and Red Hat provided a few glimmers of sunlight the tech sector suffered through a turbulent week, with no signs of letup soon.

The macroeconomy, expected to stop overall growth of IT sales for the better part of the next two quarters, brought little cheer to the holidays. The U.S. Labor Department on Wednesday, the day before markets were closed for a one-day Christmas break, reported that initial requests for jobless benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 586,000 for the week ending this past Saturday, the highest level in 26 years. Meanwhile, total retail sales excluding automobiles declined from the year-earlier period by 5.5 percent in November and 8 percent in December through Christmas Eve, according to MasterCard's SpendingPulse unit.

IT is not immune from decreases in business and consumer spending. Overall online spending for November and December declined 1 percent compared to the same period a year earlier, according to comScore. Through Dec. 21 of this year, online shoppers spent US$24.71 billion, compared to $24.96 billion in the year-earlier period, comScore said Wednesday.

There were a few bright spots. U.S. online spending over this past weekend nearly doubled from a year earlier, comScore said.

And on Friday, Amazon announced that the 2008 holiday season was "its best ever," reporting that more than 6.3 million items were ordered worldwide on the peak day, Dec. 15. Last year Amazon said its busiest day, Dec. 10, saw 5.4 million items ordered. The company did not immediately provide a comparison in terms of dollar totals, however.

Red Hat provided some good news for the software sector, which is expected to fare better than hardware during the next few quarters. For its fiscal year third quarter ended Nov. 30, the company said on Tuesday that revenue totaled $165.3 million, compared to $135.4 million a year earlier, while net income climbed to $24.3 million from $20.3 million.