Tech Industry

2HRS2GO: Super Tuesday earnings will overwhelm

Don't skip next Tuesday.

Make no mistake, I'd like to snuggle under an afghan that morning, reach for the keyboard -- my boss is in Manhattan, I'm in San Francisco, and it's cheaper to communicate through e-mail and Instant Messenger -- and call in sick.

But if I do that, I might as well call in sick for the next three months, because Tuesday will provide the clearest omens for most of the technology and Internet markets in the current quarter.

Between Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL), you basically get a view of the entire PC industry. Commerce One (Nasdaq: CMRC) and i2 Technologies (Nasdaq: ITWO) can provide a good overview of the B2B marketplace field. DoubleClick (Nasdaq: DCLK) is our window into online advertising. Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM) can tell you how broadband demand looks.

All of them report quarterly results Tuesday. All the accompanying conference calls are practically required listening for anyone interested in the near-term future of technology and the Internet, because the calls are venues for discussing what lies head -- those "forward-looking statements" the SEC frets over.

It's enough to drive anyone crazy. It's too much.

Forget my problems -- I get paid to follow these things, so I can't complain -- but what investor or fund manager can digest so many major earnings calls in one afternoon? All of the companies listed above deserve a certain amount of attention, and none of them will get it.

And as a result, something relevant will go unnoticed. You can bet on it.

Perhaps I'm underestimating Wall Street's power to absorb information these days. Maybe Joe the Chief Investment Officer can assimilate it all and direct money in the appropriate direction in a scant matter of hours.

Maybe -- if not for the fact that there are a host of other companies worth noting on Tuesday. They might not be on the level of Microsoft or Intel, but the likes of Siebel Systems (Nasdaq: SEBL), Teradyne (NYSE: TER), Nextel Communications (Nasdaq: NXTL) and Rambus (Nasdaq: RMBS) surely deserve strong attention.

They'll instead -- if they receive any press notice at all -- get some harried wire reporter scanning the press release and desperately trying to crank out a quick write-up to clear it out of the way for the next one. Fund analysts will take a quick peek at the numbers. And individual investors will wonder what's going on.

Weekend notes:

  • Rambus
  • (Nasdaq: RMBS) Speaking of Rambus, earlier this week, I used RDRAM as an example of a technology whose adoption has been slow at least in part because of the cost. I suggested pricing out two Dell Dimension PCs (a 4100 and an XPS B) whose specifications were the same in every regard, except in the type of memory, and noted that a computer with 133 MHz SDRAM would be more than $1,000 cheaper than an RDRAM PC.

    Yesterday someone from Rambus called and pointed out that the actual difference varies, depending on how much RAM you order. She has a point -- RDRAM and PC133 SDRAM machines with the minimum of 128 megabytes of memory are separated by $308, using today's prices.

    The machines I priced were maxed out at 512 MB of memory. At that end, the difference is much wider: $938 or $1338, depending on whether you get Error Checking and Correction software with your RDRAM.

    Why so much more expensive as you ramp up? The Rambus spokesperson claims it's because Dell doesn't want to sell memory modules. Dell says the expense is fueled by a combination of low demand for PCs with boatloads of memory and high costs of the RIMMs required for RDRAM.

    That Rambus-derived technology would be cheaper if more PC manufacturers sold RDRAM-enabled machines, points out Brian Zucker, Dell's "evangelist" for its consumer and small business lines. But why don't more OEMs carry RDRAM? Because they don't see enough demand to justify carrying the more expensive technology.

    Pricing issues aside, Rambus says demand is extremely high for its technology, but manufacturers need time to ramp up production. But the expense doesn't help either.

    Still, the cost of RDRAM has been falling and should keep falling as production capacity grows, Dell and Rambus folks note. It's just taking longer than anyone expected. "It'll still be a premium for the next couple of quarters," Zucker says.

  • Oracle
  • (Nasdaq: ORCL) So Ray Lane's resignation as president and COO was abrupt rather planned for awhile, as CEO Larry Ellison claimed before. But the real revelation from Lane's San Francisco Chronicle interview concerns Ellison's greater involvement.

    Ellison said many of Lane's duties had become automated or unnecessary because of Oracle's Webification strategy. Yet Lane suggests the control freak side of Ellison simply reasserted itself after being restrained for a few years. Ellison's oversight now extends to "every PC the company bought, to every person the company hired," Lane told the Chron.

    Being Ellison's right-hand man for a few years should have numbed Lane to the idea of "strange". Which tells you just how strange this really is.

  • Napster
  • A few folks who read yesterday's column wondered why I speculated Napster might be a good fit with America Online (NYSE: AOL) -- after all, AOL dumped Gnutella.

    I don't normally like to get into technical differences, because this is a business and financial column. But I think Napster would appeal more to AOL than Gnutella did because Napster's form of P2P is less pure.

    Gnutella's design makes it more difficult for AOL to direct advertising to users or chart their usage patterns and musical preferences. On the other hand, Napster keeps a central database that tracks users and shared files; that model that would seem to better suit the tightly controlled AOL world. If nothing else, with Napster it would be easier to provide targeted advertising.

    (Yes, it's a revenue stream I questioned yesterday, but only for Napster as a standalone entity. I suspect AOL's particular audience would be more receptive to it.) 22GO>