Tech stocks dug the hole we're in. This week, maybe they'll be among the first ones to climb out.

Surveyors of the last week's malodorous action in stocks say they're smelling hints of a bottoming market, one in which some tech issues -- of all things -- could be among the first to recover. That would certainly be welcome news for investors, who are starting to show some jitters as institutions sell en masse and the

Dow

and

Nasdaq

approach their April lows.

In a bottoming market, it's the stocks that go down the least that turn out to be the leaders on the way up, says Greg Smith, chief investment strategist at Prudential Securities. And Smith says he's seeing "classic" signs of a bottom: "You can see that investors are very scared," he says. "You've completely wiped out any optimism."

Traces of Hope

In line with the thesis that the steady-state stocks become the leaders, cyclical tech names such as

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, down less than a percentage point Friday, are possible candidates for the first-to-rebound slot, says Smith.

If you're tired of hearing about how tech's going to lead the charge, try this on for size: Large-cap oil stocks look like they might well be front-runners, too, says Smith. On Friday, the Amex XOI Oil Index was down a 10th of a percentage point; for the Labor Day-shortened week, it was up 0.8%.

But Smith isn't alone in finding the Intels of the world appealing right about now. Finding similar traces of hope in the tech sector is Ashok Ahuja of tech hedge fund Icor Capital. Five of the most active stocks on the Nasdaq were up Friday, he points out:

Sun Microsystems

(SUNW) - Get Report

,

Oracle

(ORCL) - Get Report

,

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

,

Qualcomm

(QCOM) - Get Report

and

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

. Another busy one,

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

, was down, though not by much more than the margin of victory in the Sampras/Agassi match in Flushing.

Add to that Friday advances by

Nortel

(NT)

and

Nokia

(NOK) - Get Report

, plus a 2.3% rise in the Semiconductor Index, and you've got a lot of beat-up tech stocks showing a little bit of promise, Ahuja says. "It appears to me that technology has bottomed," he says. Ahuja holds Sun, Dell and Qualcomm in his tech hedge fund, but not the other stocks he mentions.

You Gotta Trade!

Amid the faint promise, the mood at Ahuja's office Friday afternoon wasn't exactly giddy. "It feels like hell," he says of the market's recent performance. "I think it's going to be some time before one can get out of it."

And despite the possibility that stocks have bottomed, he cautions, "I'm sure there's enough of us who've thought it bottomed more than 10,000 times before."

Denny Fulmer of money management firm Beese Fulmer & Pincoe says he was heartened by, among other factors, the news from Intel,

Fairchild Semiconductor

(FCS)

and

National Semiconductor

(NSM)

indicating orders are stabilizing.

That said, Fulmer, who characterizes his firm as a long-term holder, says he's not jumping into tech any time soon. He prefers companies that use technology rather than make it, or other industries altogether. "You probably don't need to build any more semiconductor factories for a while," he says.