Wall Street: Apple, Google make history

Tech-company investors this week faced a mixed bag of news, including some historic events.

Tech-company investors this week faced a mixed bag of news, including some historic events, as Apple Computer and Intel joined forces, Texas Instruments (TI) issued an upbeat earnings forecast and Google shares headed skyward in a moment reminiscent of the dot-com boom.

Ten months after its initial public offering, Google shares ascended to the point where the company became the most highly valued media company in the world, beating Time Warner. This is a case of really new media beating out semi-new media: The current incarnation of Time Warner was born five years ago when America Online (AOL) purchased Time Warner for approximately US$110 billion. That combination, pitched as a synergistic merging of old and new media, turned sour as ultimately aspects of AOL's business ended up dragging down Time Warner profitability.

Google's moment came Tuesday, when the company's share price (ticker symbol: GOOG) jumped US$2.18 to close at US$293.12, and during the day came within a dollar of US$300. That made Google's Tuesday market capitalization (share price times number of outstanding shares) about US$80 billion, against Time Warner's US$78.1 billion. That's an echo of the dot-com boom when "positioning" and "potential" in the Internet market counted for more than old-fashioned sales: Google 2004 sales were US$3.2 billion against Time Warner's US$42 billion.

Google faces tough competition from rivals including Microsoft and a variety of online search and information companies. However, only one out of 29 analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial is recommending a sell of Google stock, while 24 are recommending either a buy or a "strong buy."

The week started out with another historic moment: Apple's Steve Jobs taking the Macworld stage in San Francisco to confirm rumors: The company will be using Intel chips in the future, moving away from PowerPC processors made by IBM and Freescale Semiconductor. Theoretically, that means Macs will be able to run native Windows.

There are good technical reasons for the switch, according to analysts. Intel chips over the next few years could give Apple a better performance-for-power-consumption ratio than PowerPC chips, and supplies of PowerPC over the past year were a bit low for comfort. However, even though some Mac software developers at Macworld said they were unfazed by the switch, the move is still a risk for Apple. If developers don't port their applications to Intel architecture in a timely manner, it could have a negative impact on Apple sales.

Apple (AAPL) shares declined by US$0.32 to close at US$37.92 Monday, while IBM (IBM) shares declined US$0.79, to US$75.00 However, since Apple counts for only about 2 percent of IBM chip production at its Fishkill, New York, plant, no one really expects the loss of Apple business to affect Big Blue as it seeks inroads to a bigger market: processors for gaming and entertainment devices.

In a bright moment for the chip sector, TI Tuesday raised its earnings and revenue forecast for the second quarter and Intel followed suit on Thursday.

TI shifted to what earlier was the higher range of its estimate. TI said "growing demand across a broad range" of products were responsible for the uptick. It said it expects earnings between US$0.27 and US$0.30 a share and sales between US$3.12 billion and US$3.24 billion.

Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had forecast earnings of US$0.27 a share from sales of US$3.1 billion.

Before the TI announcement, which came after markets closed, shares (TXN) dropped US$0.54 to US$27.21. Wednesday however company shares closed up US$0.62, at US$27.90.

Intel (INTC) boosted its revenue range to US$9.1 billion [b] to US$9.3 billion, compared to a previous range of US$8.6 billion to US$9.2 billion on the basis of strong demand for notebook products. The announcement was made after markets closed.

In other notable news of the week:

-- Computer Associates International (CA) announced Thursday that it is buying Niku., an IT management and governance software company, for about US$350 million in cash. CA shares closed at US$27.01, up US$0.01, while Niku (NIKU) closed up US$4.16 at US$20.66.

-- Oracle is buying privately held TimesTen, which makes software that boosts the performance of database applications in stock trading, airline reservations and other industries requiring fast response times. Oracle closed flat at US$12.67 on Thursday after the news was announced.

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Marc Ferranti

IDG News Service

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