The U.S. tech sector's road to recovery may take a bit longer than expected, if mixed results reports from two of the largest players are a guide.
Intel Corp and Google Inc handily beat Wall Street's earnings expectations for the first three months of the year. But the cautious tone that permeated comments from executives at both companies left investors feeling cold.
And with a slew of tech titans including Microsoft, IBM, Apple and Yahoo due to report next week, the frothiness that has covered tech stocks in recent weeks may have run its course.
Things are hardly good, or very good at this point, and it's unclear when a more robust growth environment is going to return, said S&P equity analyst Scott Kessler.
Tech stocks had risen along with the broader market in recent weeks, as investors hoped that business conditions might be on the mend. The Nasdaq is up roughly 32 percent since early March, while Google shares have rallied 35 percent in that time.
For hardware makers like Intel -- whose shares gained about 25 percent in the last three months -- much of the optimism has been the result of inventory restocking, as customers replenish stockpiles that were sharply pared at the end of 2008.
Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini's comments that the PC market has hit bottom, were in keeping with recent signals by other hardware makers that business conditions are not getting any worse. But the chipmaker's subdued outlook offered no reason to expect a more significant rebound anytime soon.
The view seems to be that at this point we would need to see some evidence of real demand, said Vasu Kasibhotla, of Trilogy Global Advisors.
Google plays in a different part of the tech sector, but investors saw a similar theme. The No.1 Internet search company blew past Wall Street earnings expectations for the first quarter, thanks largely to cost controls.
Google does not provide financial forecasts, but executives stressed that the second and third quarters are seasonally weak, and that seasonality would be more apparent in Google's results now that growth has slowed.
S&P's Kessler said reality is sinking in for some investors. Despite the general optimism of recent weeks, he said the picture that emerges when investors take a close look at individual companies is not reassuring.
The fact that Google is only able to deliver 6 percent revenue growth, it's eye opening for some folks, he said.
One important piece of the puzzle that remains corporate spending on technology. Intel said in its earnings call that corporate IT budgets remain constrained.
You need that to come back to support a more stable demand outlook for tech spending, said Ragen MacKenzie analyst Taunya Sell.
Investors will get a lot more clarity next week when IBM, Microsoft and EMC Corp, which all do substantial business selling to corporate customers, report their earnings.
Google shares, which initially fell in early trading, recovered to trade up 1.35 percent on Friday afternoon. Intel shares were down 1.32 percent. The Nasdaq was up 0.41 percent.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)