A lot of investors might not consider Internet stocks to be safety plays in the tech sector, but Anthony Noto, who covers dot-coms for Goldman Sachs, is saying they are.
Noto put out a research note Tuesday saying that certain Internet stocks represent "relative safe havens" this quarter, based on their earnings visibility, potential to move higher and continued improving outlook.
"These characteristics are rare today within the broader technology sector, perhaps providing a degree of downside protection for technology investors through the quarter," Noto wrote.
He recommended that investors put "fresh money" in
, which are already on Goldman's recommended list, in addition to
, which he rates market outperform.
What About Utility Stocks?
While other analysts were willing to agree that the companies on Noto's list represent some of the strongest names on the Internet, they stopped short of calling them safe havens. "I can name a lot of stocks that have good earnings visibility and outlooks," said Thomas Underwood, an analyst at Legg Mason. "But I'm not sure that they are safe places to put your money."
Underwood said eBay and Expedia, which he covers, will have good quarters, but he doesn't think they're cheap. "eBay is essentially trading at more than 60 times this year's earnings," he said. "I think the company will outperform in the current quarter, but is it safe to buy a stock at north of 60 times earnings? That depends on your view of its long-term growth prospects. In the near term, I think there is risk."
Any hiccup in the earnings for these companies could lead to them being punished on Wall Street, analysts said. "These tend to be
highly volatile stocks, which move around a lot," said John Corcoran, an Internet analyst at CIBC World Markets. "If you want a safety play, buy a utility stock."
Noto also plugged
AOL Time Warner
. "It is our favorite large-cap stock in the Internet, new media and entertainment universes and it provides the most compelling risk/reward in our sector," he wrote. Now trading at about $22, Noto said AOL's share price is a 30% discount to his valuation of $32. (Separately, AOL said that Barry Schuler is stepping down as chairman and CEO of the company's America Online division.)
Noto was slightly more cautious in his comments on companies that rely on ad spending. "Despite signs of a bottom for online advertising, we have yet to see a recovery," he said. "But
will still experience quarter-over-quarter and year-over-year declines, but upside potential to our expectations is possible."
Goldman Sachs has banking relationships with AOL, eBay, Yahoo! and 1-800-Flowers.com. Additionally, the investment bank was involved in the initial public offerings for DoubleClick and Expedia.
Of the stocks Noto mentioned, Amazon, CNet, Overture and 1-800-Flowers.com were climbing Monday, while the rest were trading lower.
Internet Index was down 1.5%.