Uh oh, the Goldman Tech conference starts this week.
For most of you out there that probably means nothing. But for you calendar devotees, the conference annually marks the top in tech. The glory of the fourth quarter is fading, and the lull of the first quarter looms.
If you look back for the past four years you will notice a remarkable correlation between the peak of tech and Goldman's tech fest. It seems almost uncanny, but actually, like the January effect, it has a terrific basis in fact.
At the end of every year salesmen at most computer companies put on a giant push to make their numbers. They are abetted by information technology managers at corporations who want to spend their budgets before the year ends. And Christmas has turned into a huge computer buying holiday.
So, when computer companies report their numbers, all of the analysts get blown away by how well all of the companies did at the end of the month. They react by then raising earnings estimates through the roof for the next year.
The weeks around reporting season tend to be exceedingly exuberant for the group, and this year was no different, as many tech equities traded to their highs. We had a bit of profit taking in tech last week, but by Friday the group had resumed its climb.
If history serves us right -- and I am betting that way -- I think it will continue to rally for the next couple of days as the computer companies have pretty solid stories to tell about 1997. There are new product cycles galore and the Goldman conference, a packed house affair, tends to send the adrenaline gurgling through the veins of many of the computer execs.
That's when the trouble begins. After all of the buying that is done this week, we tend to run out of people who haven't loaded up on tech already. But next week we begin to go into a first quarter lull that often extends right up until the summer, when, as everyone knows, Europe just shuts down.
Compounding the problems this year, of course, are a strong dollar that is hurting sales to Japan, genuine disarray in Japan itself, and a German market that seems to go from bad to worse. It doesn't help that
has left a stench to the group that not even lemons and tomato juice can remove.
That's why by Wednesday I hope to be as lean as possible in tech, owning just my most favorite names, the ones that are more or less immune to the cycle described. I will work doubly hard this week to meet as many managements as possible and look them in the eye to gauge their fear.
As I will always do as long as momentum traders rule the roost, I will shoot first and ask questions later to all but the most sanctified of players.
And then I will go into hibernation until September, when the calendar says it is once again safe to overweight this most volatile and painful of groups.
By Thursday I will be chatting with the
analysts to replace the slots taken up by those extra drive, chip and networking companies who won't make it through this Donner Pass on the way to the Promised Land.
So-called retail investors always ask me whether, given taxes, commissions and bid and ask spreads, it is worth it for them to kick out these stocks only to have to buy them again later this year.
The answer is of course not. But I am a performance manager. I live or die by my quarterly performance. I must use any edge I can to avoid losses. And, I like to sleep at night. Even during the dreary months from February through September. *****************************************
Pick: Holy Cow, the
' Op-Ed page Sunday had the best single article about p-e expansion and valuations I have read during this whole bull run. If you missed it yesterday be sure to hit up " Dear Dr. Greenspan," by Tom Friedman. I liked this guy since his book
Beirut to Jerusalem
, but this article, which describes America's multi-industry renaissance puts Dow 7000 in a context that all but the most diehard Abelson types will understand. Bravo.
Pick: Greg Ip's Buyback piece in the Abreast of the Market section of today's
. What a pleasure to read something that explains why MCD can buy back so many shares and still be such a dog of a stock. Go get ¿em.
James Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-chairman of The Street. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he welcomes your feedback, emailed to Jjcramerco@aol.com.