Looking at down-and-out tech and trying to come up with good ideas is about as difficult a task as can be found in this stock market.
Simple: Apple (AAPL). You simply can't be connected with Apple in any way, shape or form. It will pull your company down just as surely as it pulled your company up when Apple was winning the hearts, minds and wallet share of the world's gadget purchasers.
How bad is it?
I think the world of Qualcomm (QCOM), which reported a terrific number with a solid dividend boost and monster share buyback. It's got multiyear momentum and an incredible franchise that includes 4G for every major handset maker, including Samsung, the acknowledged worldwide leader right now.
The problem is that Qualcomm has Apple as a client, and no one wants to touch a company that relies on Apple. All we keep hearing about is a cancellation or pushback of Apple orders, or a furlough for workers who make iPhones, or excess inventory throughout the system.
That means every negative piece on Apple is a negative rap on Qualcomm. I think that was a sub rosa reason why a Goldman Sachs analyst took it down a notch last week.
Or take Skyworks (SWKS). This is a company that has fought to get in and stay in the Apple product line for years. Every Apple teardown led to questions about whether Skyworks would tumble out. Now, recently, we haven't had to worry that Skyworks is in -- but it came right at the time when we began to question Apple's sales, so it worked out to be nothing more than a push for the stock.
We recently decided to eliminate Broadcom (BRCM) from our Action Alerts PLUS portfolio even though Broadcom is a valued partner of Samsung and is doing incredibly well, to the point that it has been able to guide up consistently.
But Broadcom is a key Apple supplier, too, and that means there's no lift on any good news.
Cirrus Logic (CRUS) has been integral to the great sound behind Apple devices for many years. It's simply the best at what it does, which is why it was able to get that business. Now, though, it's viewed as a one-for-one trade with Apple, and it can't even defend itself, given that Apple won't let it discuss its business with the bully. So it is totally at sea.
You know how crazed things have become in the "hate Apple world?" Watch Intel (INTC). It has slowly but surely been creeping up despite no real momentum and a costly build-out that it's implemented in order to keep pace with its competitors.
But I think Intel has been rallying consistently because investors perceive that it's not caught up in the Apple iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini debacle that has created so much pain for shareholders on the way down. In fact Intel -- which desperately wants Apple's cell phone business -- thinks it's only a matter of time before Apple realizes it has to stop buying chips from and subsidizing its principal enemy, Samsung, and instead use Intel chips. It hasn't happened yet -- and, alas, maybe the hope of being an Apple supplier one day is better than actual being a supplier now.