The London stock market is at a loss, poor thing. The market is confused. Should share prices be going up or down? The main performance indicator of technology firms, the TechMARK index, recently slipped 60 points to just over 3,900. This was the latest in a series of win-some-lose-some trading sessions.Two issues appear to confound market watchers: can this year's performance match last year's, and the last time companies' values were at similar levels it was a precursor to a sharp slump, so is it time to bank the profit?London is trying to get a steer from Wall Street about the technology sector, but US financial markets are in a similar muddle. Even industry news reveals little sense of direction, or sense, for that matter. Talk of an internet boom, after the Boston Consulting Group found that online orders increased by 270 per cent in 1999, were dashed when Amazon laid off 150 workers days before its quarterly earnings report.Christmas spirit
In the PC sector, Dell followed IBM, Compaq and Gateway in admitting that the final quarter of 1999 was below expectations. However, Dell smugly added that this was due to a failure to meet demand during Christmas because of processor and memory shortages, so it's a one-off.Research from analyst IDC suggests that due to internet service provider rebates and bargain prices, retail PC sales shot up 37 per cent in 1999, with PC shipments up 23 per cent. For the first time, Dell displaced Compaq as US market leader, although the latter retained its top spot globally.IBM and Compaq both saw market share shrink, while Dell, Gateway, Apple and Hewlett Packard climbed. The lesson here is that little can be gained from studying a vendor's route-to-market plan, as these four have different channel models.Corporate clients will delay purchases into the second quarter because of (a) the February release of Windows 2000; and (b) the small IT budgets after the Y2K freeze. These factors will keep the London market subdued.And with some companies reporting poor profit, the general trend should be for more of the same.Merced-based server upgrades are sure to make this a banner year for that sector. Enterprise software vendors will rush 64bit platforms to run on the new hardware. With the UK online population approaching 20 million by the end of 2000, it will feed a positive stock market reaction.Net success, consolidation
Resellers should look to 'Net services' and the nascent application service provision industry. The Net and falling virtual private network prices will make it a success. Then there is consolidation. Current valuations make UK resellers seem cheap. In the US, the latest acquisition was retailer CompUSA, bought by Mexican giant Grupo Sanborns for $798m (£380m).Wireless application protocol, which enables handheld devices to receive web pages, will be prime time late in 2000. In spite of the rapid growth of mobile computing, there is still no reseller which has harnessed this technology to its brand in the corporate market.
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