Forget about big-cap vs. small-cap, and don't waste your time trying to spot a silver bullet of a trend. When it comes to software stocks, the dictum for 2007 is do your homework. "It really is a stock picker's market," says Chuck Jones, technology analyst for Atlantic Trust Stein Roe. Indeed, an analysis of 20 representative software stocks shows that Wall Street's five top picks for the coming year have little in common with one another, and their performance in the coming year may well be at odds with their performance in 2006. The basket of stocks includes infrastructure providers such as BEA Systems ( BEAS), security vendors, application developers, an outsourcer and integrated giants including Microsoft ( MSFT), Oracle ( ORCL) and SAP ( SAP). Although IBM ( IBM) is the world's second-largest software provider, it has been omitted because it's far from a pure play. Because there's no perfect measure of expectations, Wall Street's temperature was taken by checking the spread between the price of each of the chosen stocks on Dec. 31 and the target price as measured by the consensus of analysts polled by Thomson First Call. The winners are: Lawson Software ( LWSN), with an expected appreciation of 27%; BEA, 24%; Salesforce.com ( CRM), 17%; Oracle, 15%; and Adobe Systems ( ADBE), 13%. Analysts say this is the year that
Lawson's purchase of Intentia , a Swedish software vendor, will begin to pay off. There's little overlap between the two in either products or customers, and the added mass will make it easier for Lawson to fend off Oracle's resurgent applications business and SAP.