The Tech Market Gives Small Thanks — "It Coulda Been Worse"

The day before Thanksgiving is a good point to pause and give thanks for the recent news in the tech market, before we give thanks for our personal blessings with our families and friends tomorrow.  So, amidst the glum news about the ongoing European debt crisis that is grinding growth to a standstill, the failure of the congressional supercommittee to make any progress on US budget deficits or stimulus, and the crashing stock markets, here are some things that tech vendors can be thankful for.

  1. US economy is still growing.  The revised real GDP growth rate for Q3 2011 was 2%, down from the preliminary report of 2.5% (Gross Domestic Product, 3rd Quarter 2011 [second estimate]).  That's not much growth, but at least it is growth.  And the report on "Personal Income and Outlays: October 2011" released this morning showed a 0.4% increase in October from September (5% at an annualized rate), with consumer spending up by 0.1% (1% annualized).  So, the fourth quarter began with some good momentum for consumer spending. 
  2. The US tech market is still growing — better than the government data indicates.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis data on business investment in information technology was revised downward from the preliminary release, with total IT investment growing by just 3.3%.  However, computer equipment grew by 10.6% and software by 6%, with software doing even better if we make adjustments to exclude the "own account" software that is created by firms for their own use.  The bad news was that communications equipment investment declined by 13.2%. 
  3. Tech vendors collectively had a good Q3 in revenue growth.  The 45 leading tech vendors we track had collective global revenue growth in US dollars of 12% in Q3 2011 (helped by a lower dollar than in 2010), and 7% revenue growth in the US. Even HP, which was the last of the leading tech vendors to report revenues for the fiscal quarter that most overlapped with calendar Q3, reported 2% growth in global revenues from sales to business, and government rose by 2% despite a total revenue (including consumer sales) decline of 3%.  Software vendors did the best, with 13% growth globally and 12% in the US.  IT services vendors also had a good quarter, with global revenue growth of 12% and US revenue rising by 7%.  Computer equipment vendors did well globally, with a 12% increase — for example, HP saw its global PC sales to business and governments rise by 7% — but not as well in the US, where growth was 6%.  Of course, our vendor numbers do not yet include Apple (we're in the process of adding it to our list of leading vendors), but all the evidence suggests that sales of Apple Macs and iPads to business did hurt Microsoft-based PC sales.  The only tech sector that had a bad quarter was communications equipment vendor sector in the US, with revenues that rose by just 1%.  However, even its global revenues rose by 10% in US dollars.

Certainly, there are major clouds on the horizon, including how far the European debt crisis will drag down growth both there and elsewhere; the risk that existing federal spending props to the economy like extended unemployment insurance benefits and payroll tax reductions will not be extended; and other threats to economic growth from continued high unemployment, falling stock markets, and inert housing activity.  But for now tech vendors can take comfort that things could be much worse.  More of the same — our current expectation — is not bad!