Ask any financial advisor and they’ll always tell you to invest in the long term. Well, my guess is that investors in marketing services group, Chime, are hoping that this advice is correct. Chime put out a very positive trading update today, only to see it’s share price drop nearly 9%. Lord Bell’s quote read: “Our trading performance is very strong, our new business pipeline is very strong and our prospects look very good”. Could he have been more positive? My guess is that right now Chime is wishing it hadn’t said anything. Now some will argue that it released this on a day when the markets were down but in truth Chime’s share price is already off nearly 40% from its peak earlier in the year. What would appear to be the case is that the markets have long memories and they remember what happened during the last recession and they are taking any opportunity they can to get out of media stocks, especially those with an advertising component. Of course we aren’t in a recession and Chime is certainly sounding pretty bullish about its prospects. But it would seem that even a business with as much marketing intelligence as Chime can’t manage perceptions around its stock price in a climate like this. Indeed the lesson from this would appear to be – say as little as possible and don’t expect anyone to hear any of the positive news as they are only listening for bad news.
Back in January I wrote about the NASDAQ ticker for tech stocks, IXCO, and my hopes that the tech sector would have a break out year. Two months later..the breakout has yet to happen. The IXCO has retreated to 900s having broken above 1000 for a while. This is despite an economy that’s doing well, despite the major companies all reporting solid numbers and even despite RIM settling its lawsuit, thus keeping the Blackberry addicts online.
Now I spent the weekend with a VC whose optimism is addictive and whose ideas for new devices and services seems to filter into every conversation. Indeed, I woke up this morning convinced that the problem the technology industry faces is not a lack of opportunity. If only a fraction of the ideas I heard this weekend come to life the tech industry will be twice the size it is today. No, the problem is that Wall Street has not been convinced that the market really is going to get that much bigger. I firmly believe Wall Street views all the new ideas not as new markets but simply more competition for the existing one. It’s no shock therefore that the stock prices of Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Intel, Cisco and Dell have either stayed flat or have even retreated. Indeed only Apple, Google and HP have showed any signs of life. Google’s stock has been very volatile of late, Apple seems to have stalled and HP is really only getting back to where it should have been. Not a great report card.
I don’t believe the reason for this is poor performance by the tech vendors. Indeed, out of the companies I’ve mentioned all have reported revenue and earnings growth in the last twelve months. No, the problem it would seem is, as I’ve already said, Wall Street doesn’t view the tech market as one that is going to grow, or at least not one that is going to grow fast enough. This is of course counter intuitive. We all know that there are still large parts of the world yet to be brought online. We also know that our personal consumption of technology has far from reached its limit.
Solving this will require the tech titans to promote messages of market expansion far more aggressively. It will also require Wall Street to listen which may prove to be the hard part. After all, they heard this message a few years ago only to see it turn out to be an ‘overstatement’.
Today’s Wall Street Journal carries a piece on how small advertising agencies are taking a share of their client’s revenues for product and services they create the ads for. This will sound familiar to those in the tech agency world who were surrounded by startups in the late 90s all waving stock certificates in return for services. There were of course some significant winners such as Niehaus Ryan Wong that got founder stock in Yahoo!. Sadly it turned out that even that couldn’t save the firm and it went under in early 2002 as the full effect of the downturn in the tech sector hit.
If the advertising industry wants to take this path then I wish them luck. I for one hope the PR industry stays well clear of this murky business. While at one level it sounds great we need to remember we are PR people not VCs. These programs are divisive and rarely profitable. They are a cheap way for a client to get marketing support while the agencies shoulder the risk.
I do wonder whether this news piece came from it being a slow news day or because Chris Lawton, that wrote it, has been inundated by firms all saying they are doing this. I truly hope it was a slow news day.