Back in the heady pre-crash days during the summer of 2007, noted market pundit Jim Cramer declared that the torch had been passed to a new generation of tech stocks that he dubbed the "Four Horsemen". He argued that it was time to retire the older established names of tech like Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) in favor of newer names that held such solid business franchises that in his words, "even kryptonite wouldn't hurt them." That list was made up of four stocks; Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
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The Four Horsemen Rode Out The Recession
Looking at the peformance of these stocks over the last two event-filled years, it would appear that Cramer's call on these stocks was a good one. While they all experienced gut-wrenching levels of volatility during that time, the average return for these "horsemen" has been just under 14% since Cramer made his call; an impressive performance relative to the 35% loss experienced by the Standard & Poor's 500 over the same period. However, alot of that can be attributed to strong performance that they've racked up from the March lows, with a doubling of value being the norm.
In light of these huge run-ups, it might be worth considering the possibility that these companies might now be due for a trading pullback. Certainly, the recent record of unprecedented volatility would suggest that the such an outcome is now likely.
But what are the odds that such pullback could escalate into something more serious? After all, during their day, stocks like Intel and Microsoft were also seen as uninterruptable engines of growth. Could these horsemen also be ready to retire? To answer that question we need to revisit the arguments that Cramer made back in '07 and see if they still hold up.
RIM Still Owns Corporate Mobile Email
Back in '07 RIM was described as the "undisputed winner of the handheld," and that assessment still holds, especially in the corporate world where the company owns the email space. RIM's lock on this market appears so tight that many analysts see litle threat to the company from the recently announced alliance between Microsoft and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) explicitly targeting RIM. With Fortune magazine having recently ranked RIM as the fastest growing company in the world, it appears unlikely that the investor romance with the company will end anytime soon.
Apple's New iPhone Selling Like Hotcakes
There also seems to be enough untapped growth available in the smartphone market to keep RIM and rival Apple in a state of healthy competition for some time to come. While mobile phone sales in general are expected to be down this year, the consumer love-affair with smartphones shows no signs of abating. Recent data shows global smartphone sales up 27% year-over-year during the second quarter. During the first weekend in June, Apple sold more than one million units of its new iPhone 3GS. Demand was so unexpectedly strong for the 3GS in Canada that its wireless partner there, Rogers Communications (TSE:RCI.B), is reported to have sold out. (Read Is Growth Always A Good Thing? for another perspective on fast growing companies.)
Google Crushes Its Rivals
Cramer's earlier view that Google "owns search" also remains on the money. According to recent survey data for June, the company still dominates core U.S. search with a 65% market share compared with just a 28 combined market share for Microsoft and Yahoo!(NASDAQ:YHOO). The survey data also revealed that Goggle search clients are the most loyal conducting nearly 70% of their searches on Google sites.
Amazon's Kindle Reader
Amazon's growth prospects also appear undiminished today. With its innovative Kindle e-reader, it has lauched a whole new market for downloadable books. Naturally, Amazon also sells the downloadable books. Analysts now predict the market for these devices will reach 2 million units this year. Growth like that recently prompted Sony (NYSE:SNE) to announce the launch of its own e-reader product at a lower price point than the Kindle. While this could create some short-term competition for Amazon, it's more likely to spur growth of the overall e-book market, benefitting both companies. (See our article, Which Is Better: Dominance Or Innovation? to find out how to evaluate these two different company dynamics.)
The Bottom Line
The four horsemen still appear to be in full gallop. Despite the huge gains so far this year, it appears the ride is far from over.
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