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TMT spells TROUBLE for desperate investors.


As an investor you would hope that things couldn't possibly get any worse than the Footsie diving below the 5,000 point mark for the first time in three years.

However, spare a thought for those sad souls with any kind of holding in their portfolio that falls into that loose category of technology, media and telecoms, otherwise known as the dreaded TMTs.

The chances are things are near-desperate, and unless they have been cute or just plain lucky enough to have the foresight to trade off some of these shares at the start of the year, the odds are they are sitting on a substantial loss.

How much worse can it get? Normally I'm an optimist and certainly feel the general trend for the UK stock market is a positive one, but even my optimism is tempered when it comes to TMTs and the telecoms sector in particular.

As if to back up my general despondency comes some more excellent research from the strategists at Gerrard.

The broking house consistently over a period of years has come up with some original and thought-provoking research.

One of their latest notes has another dose of facts which makes for painful reading for holders of TMT stocks.

According to Gerrard, the earnings per share for the UK's TMT index has declined by 60 per cent compared with the level of a year ago and it is now at a level last seen in 1985.

Admittedly in 1985 the world was a different place - British Telecom was a leading company in those days, as were Marconi and Cable & Wireless. Now all three are little more than faded stars.

While the earnings for the TMT companies have fallen to 1985 levels, the index of share prices has not fallen to 1985 equivalents.

To reach these levels the TMT index would have to drop by another 70 per cent, and some individual companies couldn't possibly fall that far without going bust.

But it couldn't happen and my money's on Marconi winning the race.

Most commentators said BT and Marconi couldn't reach the levels they have done in recent times, but in markets as volatile and irrational as these it is very hard to call a floor on some of these share prices.

Ironically, the earnings for TMT companies in the US have not fallen as far, but they are back at 1997 levels and the share prices have nearly corrected themselves to be at the 1997 level, which would suggest US TMT shares are nearly at fair value.

The conclusion? UK investors should bale out of a sector which is still significantly overvalued.

For the UK there is no historical bubble to draw upon. One would expect earnings to rebound with the turn in the business cycle but when earnings reach their previous peak level is anyone's guess.

My advice is that if you are sitting on some holdings in these sectors and facing a loss you might need to be ruthless and sell.

There is no point chasing these losses. Patience with some companies is a virtue, but in these sectors patience might just be a liability.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 11, 2001
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