The first quarter of 2013 is behind us, with both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 closing at record highs, adding more than 10% in the process. And the Nasdaq? Although the tech-heavy index grew, it wasn’t able to manage a double-digit performance, coming in at 3,267.52 for a more modest 8.2% gain on the quarter.
So what happened to the technology companies? After all the early-year excitement in the industry — the holiday sales, the Consumer Electronics Show, BlackBerry’s (NASDAQ:BBRY) January reboot and all the other positives — why is the tech-heavy index underperforming the blue-chips?
As our own Daniel Putnam points out, blame the mega-caps. There were plenty of Nasdaq success stories in Q1, with a large swath of companies that outperformed not only the Nasdaq average, but the other indices as well. But the Nasdaq is heavily weighted on the performance of tech giants, which didn’t do so well … Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) being the prime example. Just as the start of Apple’s run in 2012 led to record Nasdaq performance a year ago (the index was up 18.7%, with Apple alone accounting for 34% of that gain), in a quarter where Apple ended down nearly 20% YTD, the sail turns into an anchor and the Nasdaq stumbles.
And this round, it wasn’t just Apple. Here’s a quick look at some of the big names of the quarter — winners and losers alike.
- Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) may have been in the news primarily over its decision to put a stop to employee work-from-home plans, but it was a big Nasdaq performer in Q1, continuing a rally that started late last year. Opening the year at $20.08, it’s now at $23.53 for a 16% gain.
- Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), the soon-to-be-private computer maker had an impressive 41% gain on the quarter. Mind you, that’s a reflection of its recovery from three-year lows in November, and driven more by speculation over Michael Dell’s plans to buy back his company, than Dell’s performance (its $530 million profit in the last quarter was down 31% year-over-year, while earnings attributed to its consumer PC business dove a whopping 87%).
- Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was representative of the mega-cap disappointments that held back the Nasdaq. Despite a slew of new product releases through the end of 2012, ranging from new ventures (the Surface tablets) to new PC and mobile operating systems and the latest version of its sure-hit Office productivity software, Microsoft’s profits were still down year-over-year in its latest earnings. As a result, MSFT is up just over 4% so far this year.
- What to say about BlackBerry? It started 2013 with a bang, with the former Research In Motion rebranding itself as BlackBerry, launching its long awaited (and oft-delayed) BB10 operating system and new BlackBerry smartphones. The new product rollout has suffered setbacks — particularly with a delayed Z10 U.S. launch and a further waits for the qwerty-keyboard Q10 — but BlackBerry surprised most watchers with a $98 million profit yesterday and news that it had shipped 1 million Z10 smartphones. Ship doesn’t necessarily mean “sold,” that profitability may have more to do with cost-cutting than sales (revenue and overall device sales were below expectations), and BlackBerry subscribers slipped from 79 million to 73 million, so it’s not all good news. Still, investors who bought in last year hoping for a BlackBerry turnaround are well ahead of the game — and so far in 2013, the stock continues to be a performer, opening January at $11.72 and closing yesterday at $14.45 for a 23% gain on the quarter.
- Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), the chipmaker that powers a good chunk of the mobile devices being sold — either through its Snapdragon CPUs or its 3G and 4G wireless chips — saw a gain of just over 3%, despite solid earnings with a 36% year-over-year profit increase.
- We’ve already picked on Apple as the poster child for the Nasdaq’s challenges, but it’s worth a little detail. The company’s earnings report on Jan. 23 set records, with revenue of $54.5 billion and profits of $13.1 billion. It sold 47.8 million iPhones over the holidays and 22.9 million iPads. This all sounds good, so why did investors react by punishing the stock (it ended up dropping over 12% on the news)? Two problems: expectations and margins. Despite iPhone sales being up 23% over the same quarter the previous year, analysts were looking for more, hoping to hear Apple had moved 50 million. Manufacturing issues meant the company’s PC sales were off and iPod sales were down nearly 18%. Even more ominous was the gross margin: 38.6% compared to 44.7% in the previous year’s quarter. In other words, Apple hasn’t been able to charge the same premiums it has in the past … and that meant even with revenue up 18%, earnings were flat.
- Cree (NASDAQ:CREE), a leader in LED lighting technology leveraged surging consumer demand and a distribution deal with Home Depot (NYSE:HD) for impressive gains, closing at $54.71 for a 58% gain during the quarter.
So, as Daniel wrote, it isn’t that technology stocks aren’t performing this quarter — more that big technology companies aren’t doing as well as they could be. Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) was up just 3.6%, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) was down 8.6%, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) gained 2.2% and Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) lost 6.9%. Technology stocks are still hot, but mature tech, it seems, is in a cooling-off phase.
Will that change for Q2? Microsoft is hoping that Windows 8 and Surface tablet sales take off and is goosing its Windows Store in hopes of boosting adoption. Apple is expecting its Mac shipments to normalize now the kinks are ironed out, but iPhone sales will be facing the double jinx of consumers beginning the annual ritual of holding off on purchases in anticipation of a new version and Samsung’s (PINK:SSNLF) new Galaxy S4.
When it comes to big-cap performers, it may well be up to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) — up 9.8% this quarter — to lead the way, but double-digit Nasdaq growth in Q2 may be a little too much to hope for.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.