Doomed to Repeat the Tech Bubble?

We recently received an email inviting us to a webinar titled How to Position Portfolios for the “New Economy”. Anyone who lived through the late-1990s Tech Bubble is probably now cringing. It’s hard to believe that the Tech Bubble burst 19 years ago (NASDAQ’s bubble- related peak was March 2000), but George Santayana’s famous quotation unfortunately seems to sum up the current environment, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

The basic principles of economics and finance don’t have a subparagraph saying, “this holds for every industry except for Technology.” Our bearish views on Technology in the late-1990s were based on the simple fact that return on capital is highest when capital is scarce. A mad rush to invest in anything (tulips, gold rush, technology stocks, housing, etc.) means that the longer-term investment returns will likely be subpar. The associated innovations may come to fruition, but investors should only care about their return on investment. The spread of the internet since the Tech Bubble has clearly had a major positive impact on the global economy, but many of the bubble’s hot stocks no longer exist.

Technology is cyclical

We significantly lowered our exposure to technology at the beginning of the year (from roughly 26% to about 11%) because Technology has historically been among the most cyclical sectors, and tends to underperform when profits cycles decelerate. Our forecast is that the S&P 500® GAAP profits growth will slow from roughly 23% in 2018 to 0-5% in 2019. If that forecast proves correct, then Technology has a high probability of underperforming.

Chart 1 shows the performance of S&P 500® sectors when profits decelerate. Technology is the third worst performing sector. Most investors know that technology stocks are high-beta stocks, and that they tend to be more volatile than is the overall market. However, investors seem to forget that beta is generally symmetric. In other words, the sector is sensitive to both the upside and the downside.