LA QUINTA, Calif. -- For most of the recent past, it hasn't been too difficult to sum up the mood of a technology investment conference. It usually falls on a scale between extreme enthusiasm and really extreme optimism.
But attendees of this year's
Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium
will have a little more to sort out as they fly back across the California desert.
All week, the tone varied from sector to sector. Semiconductor names like
did their best to put a good face on bad situations. Companies highly exposed to the Net economy, like
( DCLK) and
( EXDS), gave sober presentations designed to show how they can weather the present downturn.
But large Internet infrastructure and enterprise software firms were brimming with confidence. At his breakfast keynote speech Thursday,
President Ed Zander became the latest executive to reiterate a thesis that has become the biggest theme among what his cohorts like to call "best of breed" tech firms: The economy may or may not rebound quickly. But the long-term stories remain as compelling as ever.
"In the next six months, there's uncertainty," said Zander. "I hope you can forecast it for me. It's very hard to figure out what will happen in the U.S. You've got to look through the next several quarters. Anybody who bets against Internet infrastructure in the next decade is just going to be dead wrong."
Zander thus echoed the stance taken by a number of other executives at the Goldman conference this week, including
Andy Bryant and
Chairman Mike Ruettgers. The way they see it, the current slowdown is a great chance to ramp up spending and steal market share from more timid and cash-poorer competitors.
Is anybody buying it? Not surprisingly, given the current environment of uncertainty, the buzz in the halls was all over the map, ranging from utter skepticism to impatient bullishness.
But whatever the sentiment, the consensus was this: Tech stocks are cheaper than they've been in a good long while, and that's not a bad thing. Bottom-fishers were well represented, as evidenced by the surprisingly well-attended presentation and breakout session held by
Meanwhile, others are just too heavily invested to afford to stay bearish. "I'm like anybody else here," said one money manager. "I've got all my money tied up in this market, and I'm not ready to take these losses yet."
To some degree, the relative optimism of the crowd has to do with self-selection. Only tech investors go to tech conferences, and tech investors, by nature, want to buy tech. But there may be fewer of them around this year. Several attendees were struck by the poor attendance of this year's conference, compared to 2000.
Even the entertainment was telling: Last year Dana Carvey showed up to provide the Wednesday night yuks. This year, that honor went to David Spade, the snarky former-
Saturday Night Live
comedian who everyone loved to hate 10 years ago. Spade brought out the high-octane material -- jokes about immigrant resort laborers and the losers who work at fast-food restaurants.
"I think it's a good sign," quipped a manager of a state pension fund. "It's got to be the bottom."