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Tech Industry

Tech stocks elude Russia crisis

Unlike the problems crippling Asia's economy, Russia's economic crisis is not likely to have an impact on U.S. technology stocks, analysts say.

    Unlike the problems crippling Asia's economy, Russia's economic and political crisis is not likely to have an impact on U.S. technology stocks, most analysts agree.

    Last week Russia devalued its currency, sending its market plunging and sending jitters throughout global markets. Hoping to stem growing political instability and fear of a major economic crisis, Russian President Boris Yeltsin sacked his 36-year-old prime minister and replaced him with Viktor Chernomyrdin, a seasoned Russian leader.

    "Russia's impact on U.S. tech stocks will be more psychological than anything else," said Benny Choi, an analyst at the global equities research firm East/West Securities. Harder hit will be European countries such as Germany, which lent money to Russia.

    "As far as high-tech is concerned, the only minor impact will be slightly fewer exports," Choi added.

    But, after getting burned by the Asian markets, many computer companies have been wary of the emerging Eastern European markets, including Russia.

    "Tech companies have been very careful to manage their exposure because Eastern European countries don't have a lot of hard currency," said Louis Mazzucchelli, an analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison. "It's just not like Asia, where everyone rushed in and made big investments, then got hurt badly because they were getting large amounts of their revenue from that region."

    Mazzucchelli also said that neither Dell Computer, Compaq Computer, Apple Computer, nor Gateway 2000 were fazed by the crisis in Russia.

    Few tech companies even have a presence in Russia. International Business Machines, for example, has no production facilities there, and maintains only a sales force, according to Fred McNeese, a spokesman for IBM's international units.

    Microsoft also maintains a sales force in Russia, but conducts no research and development or production facilities there, according to Erin Brewer, a spokeswoman for the software giant.

    Silicon Graphics has probably the one of the largest Russian presences of any U.S. tech company. Last year it bought privately held 3D Internet software developer ParaGraph International, a company that was cofounded in 1989 in Russia by world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

    "Silicon Graphics is not getting any significant percentage of their revenue from Russia--less than 2 percent," said Ken McBride, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney. "Generally, from the tech point of view, Russia has a very insignificant percentage of the tech sector."

    Silicon Graphics has a presence in Russia because it focuses on scientific computing and is benefiting from the cheap workforce that has become available in Russia from the country's surplus supply of computer Ph.Ds, Mazzucchelli said.

    Many analysts agree that most tech companies generally have looked to Western Europe and Asia to drive their growth. Asia, of course, put a damper on that growth.

    Even the telecommunications' sector barely has been affected by Russia's turmoil, said some analysts.

    "Russia has not been a huge player in the telco area at this point," said Raj Srikanth, an analyst at Schroder & Company. "However, if China devalues its currency, that would have a dramatic impact on the sector because China and Japan have been huge participants in the global telco build-up."

    One analyst even ventured to say that the Russia crisis may even have a positive impact on U.S. tech stocks.

    "[The Russia crisis] has increased the risk premium on all emerging markets' debt and equity prices," said Ed Meihaus, vice president and chief investment officer at the research firm the Hanseatic Group. "This [increased risk premium] may translate into an increased flow of dollars to the U.S. markets, which could benefit tech stocks."