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Tech Crunch Crushes HP, Dell, Microsoft

Tech's big selloff lowers all boats, but some, like VMware and EMC, have a shorter distance to fall.

NEW YORK, (TheStreet) -- Looking to get some good tech stocks for a cheap price? Stick around.

The big market selloff of 2010 has been particularly rough on the tech sector where giants like


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have delivered strong earnings only to be sent skidding downward in the days that followed.

Tech's big gains of 2009 are eroding as investors question the soundness of the economic recovery and the hollow promise that spending would soon resume.

"Much of the strong performance last year was built on cost cutting and strong global demand," says Bay Bridge Capital Management CEO Blake Bath, who posted a gain of 74% in his Tech Media Telecom Value Fund for 2009.

But concerns are starting to creep in again about the economy. A lack of job growth is undermining the sustainability of consumer spending. And looking ahead, there are some looming issues, namely the limiting of government stimulus efforts in the U.S. and whether or not China's huge appetite for debt might one day subside.

"It's natural for investors to question the trajectory of the market amid macroeconomic concerns, especially after the outperformance we had last year," says Bath.

After the financial crisis of 2008, businesses, including the big tech shops, slashed jobs and cut costs to adjust for the economic collapse. As the worst of the downturn subsided, many of these companies, battened down with tightened-up expenses, enjoyed strong profit improvements even as sales remained subdued. With leaner operations, it was believed that many companies were well positioned to take off once the sales growth engine restarted.

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But so far there's been only sputtering and no roar of returning orders.



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, the world's largest supplier of wireless networking gear. After posting weak fourth quarter results, CFO Jan Frykhammar said the second half of 2009 was even worse than the first, which suggests that order trends are not improving with time.

"We are fairly satisfied," said Frykhammar in an interview, referring to how Ericsson met the quarter's challenges. But if you want to read anything bigger into Ericsson's recent report, you should probably focus on the fact that after deep cuts last year, the company is still reducing staff.

Ericsson reported Monday that it will cut 1,500 additional employees. That's 30% more staff than Ericsson originally planned to lay off. And there's no clear sign that the worst is over, says Frykhammar.

"In the macro picture of 2009, some countries were impacted by the financial turmoil more than others," Frykhammar said. "So a mixed trend is a good term for what we see. I think we have to live with these mixed trends."

If the big picture on tech spending is a little fuzzy from the supplier's standpoint, the business customer's view seems crystal clear.

Judging by the comments made by three CIOs at a tech spending presentation to analysts and investors last week, spending will continue to be tight for the foreseeable future. As for the investments likely to be made, budgets are being geared more toward money-saving efforts like virtualization and so-called cloud computing -- not big upgrades of things like PCs and desktop software.

As a warning to


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investors, CIOs who have been stingy with PC budgets aren't changing their attitudes this year.

"Our desktop replacement strategy is done through attrition," said one IT chief at a $9 billion industrial shop. He said that his company plans to increase 2010 spending about 2% this year, a plan that includes a two-year plan to migrate toward virtualization by replacing desktop computers with shared central computers.

And despite having to deal with


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aging XP system, these tech shops aren't focusing on shifting to the new Windows 7 OS. One problem with such a sweeping software upgrade is the possibility of disruption and numerous adjustments necessary to make sure all the business applications continue to run.

"That's the type of science project I'm not really looking for," said the CIO.

So without the lift from the usual tech leaders to pull the sector out of the gloom, where are the beneficiaries? According to IT buyers, outfits like


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and application service provider


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stand to gain some business.

VMware was down 10% in the past week before the company posted blowout earnings Monday. The stock shot up 16% overnight, a good trade for those with good timing who stuck around.

-- Written by Scott Moritz in New York

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