A stockbroker shares Reagan's high regard for high technology
Both Wall Street and President Reagan love high technology. President Reagan, in his State of the Union message last week, referred to the ''man-made miracles of high technology,'' and added that ''this administration is committed to keeping us the technological leader of the world, now and into the 21st century.''
Last week it appeared as if Wall Street had begun to discount earnings in the high-technology stocks out to the 21st century. High-tech stocks became the ''leaders,'' and stock prices rose so fast one would think semiconductors were about to replace dollars as the next currency.
On ''OPEC Monday,'' for example, when the Dow Jones industrial average had fallen 30 points by midafternoon, GCA Corporation stock could be bought for $27. 75. By Friday morning it was $33.50. The same was true for Digital Equipment Corporation, which sold as low as $98.37 on Monday but by Friday was $118.50, and Hewlett-Packard, which sold at $72.25 before jumping to $79.75. These spurts came on top of steady gains which have doubled or tripled the prices of almost all high-tech stocks over the past year. As one mutual fund manager noted , semiconductors are ''better than gold.''
To Howard S. Schacter, a senior partner at DQ Securities Company, in New York , this headlong rush is not surprising. He says that ''during a period of low inflation, you want to invest in growth, not assets.'' He believes this is just the beginning of a period of a three- to four-year growth phase for high-technology companies.
''We're going to see a return to price-to-earnings ratios of 20 to 30 times earnings,'' he said.
Before that happens, however, some caution might be in order, says Philip Rauch, vice-president of T. Rowe Price's New Horizon Fund. Mr. Rauch, noting that some of the stocks have tripled in price, said, ''From this point forward we think you will have to be more selective in buying stocks.'' Currently investors are buying the stocks in anticipation of positive earnings in 1983-84. But if those earnings don't materialize, he said, ''there will be some disappointments.''
Over the longer term, he believes the high-tech sector still represents some good values, particularly larger companies.
Even though the stocks have been the high flyers on Wall Street, Mr. Schacter does not believe they've been overbought. If the companies show an annual growth rate of 20 to 30 percent in their earnings, they can justify selling at 20 to 30 times their earnings. Furthermore, in the past they have sold at double their normal growth rate. Now the multiple is only one times their growth rate. ''When you look at other alternatives,'' he adds, ''there aren't many choices. Bonds aren't attractive. So you have to pay up for multiples.''
Such optimism has hit Wall Street before. In 1974, high-tech issues spurted in a similar fashion. They stayed high through 1976 and then slumped in 1977. They recovered in 1979, however, and moved up through the summer of 1980. Then, as the bear market hit all stocks, they thudded and remained as quiet as transistors without electricity.
If anyone on Wall Street has a feel for the pulse in high technology, it should be DQ Securities. DQ was formerly part of Dataquest, which is owned by A. C. Nielsen. Dataquest, in Cupertino, Calif., does market research for the companies that line the increasing number of Silicon Valleys springing up around the country.
For example, before Apple Computer's introduction of Lisa, its newest computer, Dataquest surveyed the potential market and analyzed the new machine. Within days of the introduction, Dataquest had written a 38-page research report concluding that the new computer was ''the first product of a new generation,'' and that whether or not it was successful, most new office systems would be compared with it.
DQ Securities, which was spun off from Dataquest, buys such material from its former parent and immediately sells it to some of the 200 institutional clients it deals with. The clients pay for the research with soft dollars - that is, by giving orders to DQ to buy or sell stocks.
For the conservative investor, DQ likes International Business Machines. ''Ever since the antitrust settlement,'' Mr. Schacter said, ''IBM has been a very aggressive company - marketing-wise and price-wise. You just can't compete against a company with its resources.'' Wall Street obviously agrees. The stock has nearly doubled in the past year.
For the less conservative investor, Mr. Schacter has other favorites. He particularly likes Hewlett-Packard, noting, ''They have the best product development around.'' H-P, he adds, is well managed and very strong financially. It sells to the scientific and engineering segments of the market, which are less likely to be influenced by the economy.
Aside from these two companies, which might be considered the creme de la cremem of high technology, DQ is partial to companies involved in the office of the future, telecommunications, and personal computers.
In the telephone communications business, Mr. Schacter believes suppliers of telephone equipment, such as TIE Communications, will perform quite well. ''TIE has 11 percent of the key systems, while Bell has 56 percent of the business. With deregulation, TIE will get a higher percentage.'' On the retail side Schacter likes Tandy Corporation. He also likes Mitel Corporation, which sells PBXs (switchboard systems), priced at the higher end of the price spectrum.
As the high-tech business expands, DQ thinks the manufacturers of semiconductors, such as Intel Corporation, will also do well. And as the semiconductor business expands, manufacturers of equipment to test semiconductors will likewise see their order books expand. Thus, Schacter recommends that investors buy GenRad, Teradyne, Varian, Perkin-Elmer, and GCA. All of these products must be distributed, so DQ likes Avnet, a company Schacter calls ''an efficient distributor'' of high technology.
When does he think these stocks will become overpriced? ''Who knowsm where they're going?'' he said. ''In the case of the semiconductors, their earnings could grow at 50 or 100 percent a year.''
Maybe the next Silicon Valley to spring up should consider locating on Wall Street. It looks like fertile ground.