Will an Analyst Upgrade Cure What Ails This Tech Stock?

Technology stocks have suffered in recent weeks, particularly those whose fortunes are reliant on the personal computer. The PC is under attack, bemoaned by its critics as a relic of technology, the death of which is sure to bring down a host of large technology companies.

This pervasive fear has led to significantly discounted valuations on many large-cap technology stocks. One of which is Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) , which has lagged far behind the market this year. Fortunately for investors, Intel got a shot in the arm recently in the form of an analyst upgrade. Is the analyst bullishness the catalyst Intel needs? Or is this just another case of blind analyst optimism?

Investors will take any catalyst they can get

Intel investors were likely relieved to find that an analyst with Piper Jaffray had upgraded the semiconductor giant to “neutral,” from “underweight,” and had also increased his price target to $22 per share, a 10% improvement from previous levels.

The analyst's optimism stems from Intel's effective cost-cutting measures, as well as the promise of the company's Atom chips.

Moreover, the analyst is predicting a 2014 product refresh cycle for notebooks, particularly at the enterprise level, which would be great news for Intel and its chips.

On a day in which the overall market fell into the red, Intel rose nearly 2%. This stands in marked contrast to what we've seen over the past few months, which was consistent Intel underperformance, even on days in which the market rallied.

Intel has been severely beaten down over the past several months, particularly when compared to the overall market. Whereas the S&P 500 Index has racked up double-digit gains to start 2013, Intel is up much less than that, only about 6% year to date.

It's not hard to see why Intel's shares are suffering. Intel has posted several poor quarters in recent history, which have only served to fan the flames of PC-related fears. Intel's dour results reflect both a slowdown in consumer and business spending on technology, as well as the continued belief that tablets and mobile devices will keep snatching market share away from traditional laptops and notebooks.

Not the only suffering tech stock around

Intel isn't alone when it comes to large-cap technology giants lagging behind the broader market. Even technology companies that aren't at all reliant on the personal computer are seeing weakness in both their business conditions and their stock prices.

Tech juggernauts International Business Machines (NYSE: IBM  ) and Oracle (NYSE: ORCL  ) are both down approximately 5% year to date, which pales in comparison to the roughly 15% gains for the S&P 500 Index.

Again, we see a pattern of technology stocks that were once counted on for strong growth, simply falling short.

IBM's last quarterly report was not well received by the market, and shares have steadily declined in the ensuing weeks. Revenue declined 3% in IBM's fiscal second quarter, and in all, this was IBM's fifth consecutive quarterly decline in revenue. Profits also fell by 17% year-over-year in the most recent quarter, due to both lower sales and a $1 billion charge for a previously announced workforce restructuring.

And, while Oracle's fiscal fourth-quarter net profit rose 10% to $3.8 billion, revenue stayed flat, coming in well short of expectations. In all, this quarter marked the second in a row in which Oracle missed forecasts for software sales and subscriptions. Going forward, the picture remains cloudy at best. Management stated that new software sales and subscriptions will rise 0%-8% during the current quarter.

The Foolish takeaway

Whether this is simply a summer slowdown in technology-related spending, a more significant failure of execution and leadership, or a combination of these factors, remains to be seen.

At the same time though, any resumption in modest technology spending will surely benefit these companies, which is the basis for the analyst upgrade on Intel.

As a result, if next year brings the product refresh cycle that the Piper Jaffray analyst expects, all three technology giants stand to benefit, including Intel.

Since technology spending is cyclical by nature, the recent drops in IBM, Oracle, and Intel seem to present a compelling opportunity for long-term investors. Those who are willing to ride out further bumps in the road are getting these tech stocks at reduced prices. Consequently, today's prices are likely to be rewarding entry points for patient investors.

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