What This Meltdown Means for Tech Investors

Will Congress ever act? Tech investors like you and I need to consider the possibility that they won't, and our alternatives are anything but cheery. We could:

  1. Load up on gold and shotgun shells.
  2. Flee to Madagascar.
  3. Get comfortable with the fetal position.
  4. Play portfolio defense with well-positioned techies.

The prevent defense that wins for investors
Option 4 isn't as difficult as you might think. The U.S. is, after all, still home to the world's most innovative tech companies. So even though Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU  ) is winning acclaim here and in its home country of China, its servers are running on chips made by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , which routinely generates more than 70% of its revenue overseas.

Plenty of American tech titans are big exporters. Here are three more that you may have heard of:

Company

% Revenue From Overseas Markets

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  )

66.6%

IBM (NYSE: IBM  )

63.0%

Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  )

56.9%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

We want exporters, because as the U.S. dollar falls, their products see greater demand. Consider Oracle. A weak dollar has aided its earnings for years. Executives warned this quarter that a surging greenback could eliminate the tailwind. But that all changes if the bailout proceeds to devalue the dollar as expected.

Not that I'm rooting for our currency to fall; I'm not. But the economic crisis is proceeding as if a cheaper dollar is inevitable. There's a good reason for that: Any relief that includes creating money from thin air -- as is effectively being proposed -- would dilute the currency. Why not take advantage?

After all, isn't that what a good investor does? Isn't it what Buffett did when he committed $5 billion of Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE: BRKB  ) capital to buy a very profitable slice of Goldman Sachs? I think so.

You look lovely in that balance sheet
Consider, too, that the largest tech firms have very little leverage. Most, like Intel, are sitting on billions in cash and investments, with barely more than a smattering of debt. That's a huge advantage; you get to create your own venture capital arm and buy innovation on the cheap.

Smaller techies can also benefit. Think of graphics and gaming chipmaker NVIDIA (Nasdaq: NVDA  ) , which gets more than 80% of its revenue from outside the U.S. and holds more than $1.6 billion in cash and investments, according to Capital IQ. NVIDIA appears built to survive or even thrive during a downturn, as Motley Fool CAPS investor tconwa1 explained in August. Quoting:

With all that extra money they have an incredible Research and Design department. They can do stuff like buy the AGEIA PhysX accelerator and incorporate that into NVDA products. PhysX software is widely adopted by over 150 games, is used by more than 10,000 developers of all types and is supported on Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and PC. And now to get it and its benefits, you have to have an Nvidia graphics card.

Talk about an impressive combo. Not only is NVIDIA investing for the future, it's doing so without borrowing a dime, instead funding growth via free cash flow -- nearly $500 million of it over the trailing 12 months alone.

Before you go on a buying spree ...
All of that sounds great. But what happens if the bottom really does fall out? What if there is another Great Depression? My guess is that we'll have bigger problems to solve, problems that have nothing to do with stocks and everything to do with finding our next meal.

We should therefore invest as if the world won't end tomorrow. For if we do, we'll find that the stocks that offer us the highest ratio of reward to risk -- the high-growth capital defenders, you might call them -- are Silicon Valley's biggest and proudest names.

And they all just went on sale. Happy shopping.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers owned shares of IBM, Oracle, and, like The Motley Fool, Berkshire Hathaway. He hunts for the best of tech as a contributor to Motley Fool Rule Breakers, which counts Baidu.com among its holdings. Here's how to try this market-beating service free for 30 days. Get access to all of Tim's Foolish writings here.

Berkshire Hathaway, Nintendo, and NVIDIA are Stock Advisor selections. Berkshire, Intel, and Microsoft are Inside Value picks. The Motley Fool owns shares in Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy last visited Silicon Valley during its dot-com heyday.


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  • Report this Comment On September 30, 2008, at 3:25 PM, robert3892 wrote:

    Tim, the dollar is tied closely with the Chinese currency so a lower dollar will certainly not help trade in the Asian region. In addition the weak dollar was the major contributing factor to higher oil prices. If the government had acted to intervene and strengthen the dollar very early when oil prices climbed too high, oil prices would have slipped more quickly. I don't want 700 billion of my taxpayer dollars to pay for banking greed. Let those banks declare bankruptcy and let someone else take over the bank. New laws need to be made FIRST to prevent mortgage fraud and mismanagement.

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