Technology Sector Concerning

Get ready for earnings season to officially begin this week. For the markets it will be an anxious week as there needs to be some good news in face of surging oil prices and interest rate concerns.

 After a relatively good but not overpowering, Q4, the market is quite anxiously waiting for the Q1 and the guidance going forward for 2006. It could go a long way to dictating where stocks will head in the upcoming quarter. The Q1 earnings need to be positive as expectations are high, especially in the technology and small- cap areas. Again, failure to deliver strong numbers could prove a setback for stocks going forward.

 The Q1 outlook looks decent, but looking ahead to the Q2, earnings growth is expected to falter to 7.8%.

 My concern continues to lie with the technology sector. The NASDAQ recently broke to a new five-year high of 2333 but is now looking for some direction.

 An area that will be under pressure to deliver is the semiconductor group. Bellwether Intel Corp. (NASDAQ/INTC) is set to report after the market close on Wednesday.

 Wall Street is expecting the worst from the world’s largest chipmaker as it struggles to fight a minor trend of poor earnings and failing to meet Street estimates for two consecutive quarters. Intel is expected to make $0.23 per diluted share on revenues of $8.94 million, down from $0.35 per diluted share the prior year. The chipmaker had already spooked Wall Street after lowering its revenue forecast to $8.7 billion from $9.1 billion in early March.

 The trend of underperformance is now what investors want to see. Intel is losing market share to rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE/AMD) and this is a growing concern.

 For Intel, all eyes will be on its guidance going forward and how it plans to revert the declining market share and get the upper hand on AMD whose chips are faster. Intel is currently aggressively cutting its chip prices to compete and this may work in the short- term. But in the longer-term, it is all about speed.

 Intel is expected to release a faster chip in the second half that will compete, but investors must be convinced the company is turning around and AMD will be in its path.