Too Many Cautious Comments

With a little more than a month to go before the oft-predicted 2004 recovery in tech spending is expected to begin, top executives in the sector are still issuing qualified outlooks.

Hewlett-Packard and Intel execs were the latest to suggest that the rebound may not be as robust as hoped.

“We’re not counting on a huge improvement in demand in the enterprise space, but it’s fair to say people are becoming increasingly optimistic, but cautiously optimistic,” HP CEO Carly Fiorina said on a conference call after the company beat estimates.

And Intel CEO Craig Barrett was quoted by Reuters as saying that the company sees signs of enterprise growth, but expects no major upgrade cycle.

While economic conditions are historically positive in the year before presidential elections, comments from top tech officials like Barrett and Fiorina suggest that this up cycle may be a modest one. While that’s far better than the down cycle the sector was in for three years, it’s clear that investors hoping to party like it’s 1999 again should be ratcheting down their expectations.

Those comments – along with another terrorist attack in Turkey and mixed economic reports – were enough to send stocks lower Thursday.

The Nasdaq dropped 17 to 1881, the S&P 500 fell 8 to 1033, and the Dow lost 71 to 9619. Volume declined to 1.29 billion shares on the NYSE, and 1.8 billion on the Nasdaq. Decliners led 20-12 on the NYSE, and 19-12 on the Nasdaq. Downside volume was 72% on the NYSE, and 70% on the Nasdaq. New highs-new lows were 123-13 on the NYSE, and 124-15 on the Nasdaq.

After the close, Brocade and Portal Software met estimates. Serena , Agile , TiVo , AutoDesk and Microsemi beat estimates, and Novell and CNT missed revenue estimates.

During the day, OmniVision and Intuit rose on better than expected results, while Marvell tumbled 7% on guidance that wasn’t as robust as hoped.

DoubleClick rose 5% on a share buyback plan.

eBay slipped 2% on patent troubles with AT&T .

Callidus Software became the first software company to go public this year, closing 3% above its opening price.

And SBC is taking VOIP mainstream.

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