January 13, 2010 10:21 pm

Spending rebound set to spur IT revival

After the razzmatazz of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, the tech earnings season begins in earnest on Thursday, with investors eager to see whether hot products translate into optimistic forecasts for 2010.

Intel, a bellwether stock for the industry, is, as usual, the first large company to report when it announces fourth-quarter results and issues its forecast for the year ahead.

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Analysts expect the world’s biggest chipmaker to lead a tech charge this year, powered not just by consumer spending but a surge in enterprise investment on upgrading servers and desktop PCs.

“The technology downturn of 2008 and 2009 is unofficially over,” said Andrew Bartels, analyst at Forrester Research, this week. “All the pieces are in place for a 2010 tech spending rebound.”

Forrester predicts businesses and governments around the world will start investing in IT as a six- to seven-year cycle of growth and innovation that it calls Smart Computing begins.

The research group defines this as the new IT foundations being established for unified communications services, cloud computing (where companies access applications and services over the internet), and server and storage virtualisation (where computing and data storage are spread dynamically and more efficiently across servers and data centres).

Global IT spending, which fell 9 per cent last year, will rise 8 per cent this year to more than $1,600bn, it predicts. Software and computer hardware will be the biggest growth sectors and western Europe is expected to be the strongest region with an 11 per cent rise in spending.

Such trends would benefit large chipmakers such as Intel, as well as the leading PC makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard, and software and service leaders IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP, which all report over the coming weeks.

Last year was a good year for Intel based on consumer purchases, especially in mobile devices where its Atom microprocessor dominated the booming netbook category.

“Looking forward to 2010, I don’t see any reason that shouldn’t continue as computers spread worldwide, but there’s also a potential for corporate and enterprise customers to return to the market,” said Paul Otellini, chief executive, in an interview with the Financial Times at CES.

“When you add those two together, you can construct a scenario for 2010 that is very optimistic.”

Drivers for enterprise spending also include the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system last October and the launch this month of a new family of more efficient Intel microprocessors based on the next level of miniaturisation – circuit widths of 32 billionths of a metre.

“Most corporations did not upgrade to [Microsoft’s] Vista so they are on Windows XP on relatively old machines. Therefore the installed base of notebooks is over four year olds and desktops more than five years old,” said Mr Otellini.

“If you’re going to run Windows 7 for improved security and performance, a new computer is in order.”

The Gartner research group reports sales of consumer PCs actually rose 16 per cent last year to 143m units and it predicts an 18 per cent rise to 168m in 2010. But selling prices are falling as the mix shifts towards cheaper netbooks.

“Market growth is going to be bumpy because we need a recovery from average selling prices going down. We are going to see some of that in 2010 but it’s not going to be [even] all around the world,” said Andrew Johnson, Gartner analyst.

Chipmakers are finding new markets beyond PCs and mobile phones. There was a plethora of eReaders on display at CES, tablet devices made a comeback and TV makers announced 3D and internet-connected models requiring new chipsets and processors.

Technology companies are also looking to China to drive growth as government-inspired consumer spending there last year helped to turn the industry round. The Chinese New Year holiday next month is traditionally a period of high consumer spending and the dawn of the Year of the Tiger is expected to provide a strong signal on whether technology can bite back in 2010.

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