S&P Downgrade Of US Debt And Related Financial Market Distress Mean Slower Growth In US And Global Tech Markets

The financial news from the US and Europe – the messy resolution of the US debt ceiling impasse and the related downgrade of US government securities, the sharply higher prices for Spanish and Italian debt after inadequate response to the latest Greek debt crisis, and the big drops in stock markets on Monday – will certainly weaken the economic growth prospects of both the US and Europe. We anticipated much of this two weeks ago, both before the US debt ceiling was raised at the 11th hour along with a makeshift deficit reduction plan (see my blog on July 28, 2011) and after the news of much lower US economic came out on Friday (see my blog on July 29, 2011). In fact, the resolution to the debt ceiling issue was slightly better than we expected (no default, and in interim deficit reduction that cut only $21 billion in fiscal year 2012 starting in October 2011) while the US economic outlook in Q2 2011 and earlier was quite a bit worse. The big surprise was S&P's downgrade of US securities from AAA to AA+. While that downgrade was not copied by the other rating agencies and in fact had no impact today on the prices of US treasury securities, it had a big psychological impact. Along with the bad news coming out of Europe after interest rates on Spanish and Italian debt spiked, the S&P downgrade triggered the 600 point or so drop in the Dow Jones Industrial index today, following a 500-point fall on Friday. The result of all these events at best will mean very weak growth in both the US and Europe in the rest of 2011 and well into 2012; at worse, it increases the risk of a renewed recession.

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US Q2 2011 GDP Report Is Bad News For The US Tech Sector, But With Some Silver Linings

The US Department of Commerce released preliminary Q2 2011 GDP data this morning (National Income and Product Accounts -- Gross Domestic Product: Second Quarter 2011 (Advance Estimate); Revised Estimates: 2003 through First Quarter 2011), and there was not much good news in the numbers.  First, US real GDP growth came in at a weaker than expected 1.3% (see Table 1).  Equally bad, prior quarters' growth was revised downward -- Q1 2011 down to 0.4% from 1.9% earlier, and Q4 2010 down to 2.3% from 3.1% earlier.  Given the negative impact of the deadlock on raising the US Federal debt ceiling -- even if a default is avoided at the last minute -- it is hard to see US real GDP growing faster than 2% in Q3 and Q4 2011, and very possibly not much more than 1.5%.

Table 1, US Real GDP Growth Rates, Before and After July 29, 2011 revisions

 

Real GDP, annualized growth rate from prior quarter

Q1 2009

Q2 2009

Q3 2009

Q4 2009

Q1 2010

Q2 2010

Q3 2010

Q4 2010

Q1 2011

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Forrester Will Lower Its Tech Market Forecast By One-To-Two Percentage Points, Depending On Federal Debt Ceiling Outcome

On Tuesday, we were ready to publish our mid-2011 global IT market forecast.  It projected 7.4% growth in the US IT market in 2011, and 10.4% in 2012.  Global growth in US dollars was forecast at 10.6% in 2011 and 7.6% in 2012, with the dollar rebounding in 2012 from its weakness in 2011;  measured in local currencies to eliminate currency fluctuations, growth was projected to be 7.8% in 2011 and 9.1% in 2012.  Our definition of the IT market included business and government purchases of computer and communications equipment, software, and IT consulting and outsourcing services -- it did not include their purchases of telecommunications services, which are declining in the US and growing slowly globally.

Our forecast did recognize three threats to economic growth, and thus three risks to our forecast: 1) a failure to reach a sensible resolution to raise the US debt ceiling and start on a path to lower budget deficits; 2) a failure of European governments to reach a sensible resolution to the Greek debt crisis that lowered the Greek debt burden and reduced the risk of a broader debt crisis that included Italy and Spain; and 3) overreaction by China and India to rising inflation that reduced their growth. 

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Watch Out For A Potential Glut Of “Dark Cloud” IaaS

Back during the dot.com boom years, existing telcos and dozens of new network operators, especially in western Europe and North America, laid vast amounts of fiber optic networks in anticipation of rapidly rising Internet usage and traffic. When the expected volumes of Internet usage failed to materialize, they did not turn on or “light up” most (some estimate 80% and even 90% on many routes) of this fiber network capacity. This unused capacity was called “dark fiber,” and it has only been in recent years that this dark fiber has been put to use.

I am seeing early signs of something similar in the build-out of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud offerings. Of course, the data centers of servers, storage devices, and networks that IaaS vendors need can scale up in a more linear fashion (add another rack of blade servers as needed to support an new client) than the all-or-nothing build-out of fiber optic networks, so the magnitude of “dark cloud” will never reach the magnitude of “dark fiber.” Nonetheless, if current trends continue and accelerate, there is a real potential for IaaS wannabes creating a glut of “dark cloud” capacity that exceeds actual demand, with resulting downward pressure on prices and shakeouts of unsuccessful IaaS providers.

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Canadian ICT Market Will Be Similar To US In Growth Rates, But Differs In Product And Industry Mix

On the same day that we published our latest forecast for the European ICT market, Forrester has also published our forecast for the Canadian tech market (see June 8, 2011,“The Canadian Tech Market 2011-2012 -- Different From US In Industry Mix of Purchases; Similar Growth Rates").   The following are my key takeaways from this report:

  • The Canadian market for purchases of information and communications technologies (ICT) by businesses and governments is about 10% the size of the US ICT market, and only about 3% of the global ICT market.  Still, it is an important market because of the sophisticated level of its tech adoption (i.e., its readiness to adopt advanced technologies) and its proximity to the US market.  
     
  • Canada's ICT market growth rates of 6.2% in 2011 and 2012 growth of 8.1% in Canadian dollars will be very similar to the US ICT market growth in US dollars in the same periods.  With the Canadian dollar having gained strength against the US dollar, that means that US vendors will see even stronger Canadian revenue growth when they convert their Canadian sales back into US dollars. 
     
  • Communications equipment and software will have the strongest growth in 2011, at 10.5% and 8.4%, respectively.  Computer equipment growth of 4.4% and telecommunications services growth of 2.2% will be the weakest product categories.
     
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European ICT Market Will Grow More Slowly Than US Market, But With Wide Geographic Variances

I am in Barcelona, Spain, at our IT Forum EMEA event, where my colleague Peter O'Neill and I presented our latest forecasts for the tech market in Western and Central Europe.  In parallel, Forrester has just published our report with this and much more information (see June 8, 2011, “European Information And Communications Technology Market 2011 To 2012 -- The North-South Divide Persists, With Wide Variations In Country Information And Communications Technology Growth”).  Here are the key conclusions that I would highlight from the report:

  • As a geographic unit, the market for business and government purchases of information and communications technologies (ICT) in Western and Central Europe will grow by 3.8% in 2011 (measured in euros), compared with 6.4% growth in the US (measured in US dollars).  Excluding slow-growing telecommunications services, the information technology (IT) market in Western and Central Europe will grow by 4.5% in euros vs. the 7.4% growth in US dollars in the US (see June 7, “European Information And Communications Technology Market 2011 To 2012 -- The North-South Divide Persists, With Wide Variations In Country Information And Communications Technology Growth”).
     
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Difference Between Dell And HP Q1 2011 Performances Much Less Than The Investment Community Thinks

Hewlett-Packard reported its financial results for the quarter ending on April 30, 2011, early in the day on May 17, a day sooner than expected. Dell reported its financial results the same day, at its normal time at the end of the day. In many ways, as we will see in a minute, the results were similar. Yet the financial market reaction was dramatically different. HP's stock price dropped by 7% during the day, while Dell's stock price rose by almost 7% in after-hours trading. Bloomberg News, in its article on the two companies' results, headlined what it saw as the reason for the different performance: "Dell Shares Rise After Corporate Spending Gives Company Edge Over Rival HP."

I am not a stock analyst, nor is Forrester in the business of analyzing or forecasting stock performance. But the divergent responses of the stock market to the financial results of HP versus Dell do have implications for vendor strategy, while the underlying results show where the tech market is headed.

First, let's compare the actual numbers. HP's revenues in the quarter were up by 3%, and right in line with expectations, while Dell's revenues were just 1% higher, and lower than expectations. Dell's sales to business rose by 3%, while HP's sales increased by 8%. Dell's sales to consumers fell by 7%, slightly better than the 8% drop in HP's sales to consumers. So far, very similar numbers between the two vendors, with HP actually doing better than Dell in the quarter. So, why the market perception that Dell outperformed HP?

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Forrester Projects 8% Growth In US IT Purchases In 2011, And 10% In 2012

Forrester just published our latest forecast for the US market for business and government purchases of information technology (IT) goods and services (April 1, 2011, "US Tech Market Outlook, Q1 2011 -- Building a Springboard For Even Stronger Growth in 2012"), and we have raised our 2011 and 2012 outlooks: we now forecast 8% growth in the US in 2011 (up from our 7.4% forecast in January) and 10.3% in 2012 (compared with a 9.3% forecast earlier).  For the broader ICT market (information and communications technology, adding in telecommunications services), 2011 growth will be 6.8% compared to a 5.1% rise in 2012. 

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Q1 2011 Results For Accenture And Oracle Point To Strong 2011 For IT Services And Software

On March 24, 2011, both Accenture and Oracle released better-than-expected financial results for their fiscal quarters ending in February 2011.  In both cases, revenue growth was stronger than expected, with Accenture's revenues up 17% and Oracle's reported revenues up 37%.  Note, though, that Oracle's reported revenues were measured against a period in which it recorded only one month's of Sun Microsystems' revenues following the completion of that acquisition; adjusting the base period to show a more complete picture of the Sun revenues (which we estimate at about $1.8 billion in the three months ending in February 2010, compared with the reported $458 million), Oracle's revenues were 13% higher.  Still, its software and services revenues were up a strong 19%.

Because their fiscal quarters end one month earlier than most other vendors, Accenture and Oracle serve as early indicators of how the IT services and software segments of the tech market do each quarter.  The 27% increase in license revenues for Oracle's database and middleware products and the even stronger 34% growth in its application license revenues are signs of growing demand for software products -- not just SaaS products, but also classic licensed software products.  Purchases of those products typically lead to purchases of systems integration consulting services from IT services vendors like Accenture.  And indeed Accenture reported 20% growth in revenues from consulting services, compared with more modest (but still good) 13% growth in its outsourcing businesses.  So, my expectations that software and IT services will be the leading tech market growth categories in 2011 are supported by these results.    

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Japan's Troubles Raise A Red Flag But Don't (Yet) Alter Our Global Tech Market Outlook

With Japan's triple hit of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant dominating newspaper headlines and TV news, I have gotten some questions from clients about the impact of the disaster on the overall tech market.  In general, I think the effects of these disasters on the total 2011 outlook will be small -- at worst, they will hurt tech market growth in Q2 2011 while strengthening growth in Q3 and Q4.  However, that outlook assumes that the problems at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex improve or don't worsen.  If that situation turns into a Chernobyl-type disaster that causes permanent evacuations from a multi-mile radius around the plant and possible shutdowns of other nuclear power plants, the impacts on the Japanese economy and on the Japanese tech industry -- not to mention for the people of Japan -- would be very negative, and cause a downward adjustment in our tech market forecast.

The potential impacts of the Japanese disasters show up on both the tech supply side and on the tech demand side, so let's look at both angles. 

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