HONG KONG -- As the trouble in U.S. markets has drifted onto Asian shores, technology stocks have been hammered mercilessly. In Hong Kong and Tokyo, Seoul and Bombay, investors have shunned the issues as quickly as they embraced them.
Still, there is a tried and true way to find the Asian tech stocks that are falling less than their peers, and in some cases even rising: Find the companies that actually make money.
In Hong Kong, the biggest volume of the day Wednesday was done in shares of
, which has tripled over the past year, but without an underlying rise in earnings to justify such an explosion in the stock price. China Tel's 9.4% drop today dragged down the benchmark
index, which slipped 574.49 points, or 3.4%, to 16,318.44. But given the fact that it's a real company with actual earnings, its fall was nowhere near as dramatic as some other recent highfliers in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong's recently hyped, content-poor dot-com debutantes,
, held recent gains about as well as a sieve. Tom.com fell 16% Wednesday, making its fall for the week so far 31%. Likewise for Sunevision, which dropped 12%. Both companies are trading at their lowest level since going public last month.
"Clearly the markets had gotten frothy. People were buying companies just because they were going up," says Eswar Menon, co-manager of the institutional
Loomis Sayles International Equity fund, which is up 83% in the past year, near the top of its peer group, even though it has fallen almost 20% in the past four weeks. "The shakeout is absolutely necessary," he adds.
Also shaken out was the Hong Kong version of
, Internet investor
Pacific Century CyberWorks
. The company fell 11% Wednesday, and is now down 47% from its yearly high. The problem isn't just its investments, which are falling in value. The company still has yet to book a penny in sales for an ambitious cable-and-satellite-linked Internet content business across Asia.
Not that there isn't anything to buy in the region. Menon recommends taking a look at some Asian technology stocks now because "for the long-term investor, stocks are 20%, 30%, 50% cheaper than they were a few days ago." He is a happy holder of Korea's
. Both trade at 100 times earnings or more, but at least they have a history and make things for which there is demonstrable demand.
"You have to have a high degree of confidence in the companies you own," says Mark Headley, co-manager of the
Matthews International Tiger fund, which has risen 95.6% over the past year and is the second-best performer in its peer group.
Easy to say, but for Headley it has not been an easy week. At the end of December, his top holding was Chinese computer maker
, which fell 18% today. Legend makes money, but even after its fall it trades at 145 times this year's projected earnings. More reasonably priced is another of Headley's favorites,
, a profit-making Hong Kong Internet company. It fell 16% Wednesday, but now trades at 27 times this year's expected earnings.
Where was the money leaving China Tel and the other tech stocks flowing? Into banking giant
, for one. Formerly the biggest stock in Hong Kong, HSBC trades at the rich end of the price-book spectrum for international banks, but it is well run and not subject to manic fluctuations. Investors also went into
Sung Hung Kai Properties
, a big Hong Kong developer, which despite its Sunevision subsidiary is predominantly a bricks-and-mortar company.
Technology stocks actually rose in Taiwan, home of real companies that make things you can understand, and do so efficiently.
rose 2.4%. Chipmaker
was up even more.
Then, there is India, home of two of the hotter
stocks over the past year,
. Of the two, Infosys has found more favor recently -- possibly because it's the one with actual earnings. While its
price-to-earnings ratio is in the triple digits, that's good enough for some investors. Infosys actually rose Tuesday both in New York and Mumbai, though it slipped 3.7% in Indian trading Wednesday.