No slowdown for US tech industry

No slowdown for US tech industry

AT&T, Apple, Microsoft and others report strong demand, remain optimistic

Venture capital experts said the first-quarter results were solid.

"We see from an early-stage-investing point of view, the economic slowdown has had an impact and perhaps people are being mindful of the economic slowdown. But, at the same time, the effects of it are milder than you might imagine from listening to the evening news,'' said Nina Saberi, managing general partner of Castile Ventures at an April 18 press conference when the MoneyTree data was released.

"I haven't seen any slowdown in the pace of investment from the venture community. They've been very steady. Although, they haven't ramped it up either,'' Lefteroff says. "The areas that continue to attract the most interest are the life sciences and Internet-related, Web 2.0 consumer-oriented Web sites.''

Lefteroff points out that the venture capital industry is not backing enterprise-oriented IT companies or network service providers at the levels they were in 1999 and 2000. But he remains optimistic about start-ups targeting wireless and broadband Internet services.

"If there's one thing that consumers have demonstrated they have an unquenched thirst for is applications and information that they can get over mobile devices,'' Lefteroff says. "As long as we're still making improvements in our ability to deliver content through mobile devices, that trend will continue to stay quite hot.''

One challenge for the venture capital industry is that the IPO market is virtually nonexistent, leaving acquisition by another IT company as the only exit strategy for these start-ups.

"If you can't go public you're at the mercy of the big companies to determine your price,'' Lefteroff says, pointing out that the number of potential buyers is down because the IT industry has consolidated since 2001. "There's been a lot of consolidation in the tech space, which has left very large, very well funded, tough competition that are big companies. The top IT vendors really do have a swagger now that impacts everybody.''

Not out of the woods yet

While they remain optimistic, experts agree that the IT industry is not out of the woods yet. If the economic downturn persists for another six months, corporate IT budgets could be reduced for 2009. If the mortgage crisis worsens, consumer electronics purchases could be cut back for the holidays.

The lag time between when an economic downturn hits the tech industry is "anywhere from six months to a year,'' McDonald says.

"If the overall economy stays down for a while, it will certainly start to affect'' consumer technology purchases, Chintagunta says. "I don't think any sector is completely bulletproof.''

Whether the US tech industry can continue to avoid getting dragged down by macroeconomic forces depends on many things, including the price of oil and the value of the dollar, Chintagunta says.

"There are a lot of moving parts to this picture, but it doesn't seem as if this downturn is going to be as bad as the last one,'' he adds.

But for now, experts remain upbeat about the US tech industry.

"I think the outlook for the tech industry is certainly better than for other areas of the economy,'' USF's Allen says. "Given the international situation and the trends I see, I think it could survive anything short of a depression.''

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