Welcome to week 37 of my stock-picking throwdown with Mr. Market. Let's get right to the numbers:

Company

Starting Price*

Recent Price

Total Return

Akamai

$22.23

$19.58

(11.90%)

Harris & Harris

$6.22

$4.71

(24.30%)

IBM

$127.64**

$101.42

(20.50%)

Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL)

$22.69**

$19.68

(13.30%)

Taiwan Semiconductor

$10.34

$9.17

(11.30%)

AVERAGE RETURN

--

--

(16.26%)

S&P 500 SPDR

$124.37**

$85.37

(31.36%)

DIFFERENCE

--

--

15.10

Source: Yahoo! Finance.
*Tracking began on Aug. 7, 2008.
**Adjusted for dividends and other returns of capital.

Talk about a turbulent week. A smattering of stronger-than-expected earnings reports and a surge of investor enthusiasm clashed with news of a potential conspiracy at Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). Mr. Market can't decide which way to go.

Yet his mood may prove moot. There's mounting evidence that March's big rally, which extended into early April, will soon end. Global deleveraging -- as much as $4 trillion in credit-fueled economic damage, according to the International Monetary Fund -- could stunt economic growth, and thereby stock prices, for years to come.

Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT), meanwhile, said Wednesday that revenue declined 22% last quarter. Profits plunged, too, as the heavy-equipment maker suffered huge charges for laying off some 25,000 workers.

Caterpillar, you're no butterfly.

The week in tech
Nor are many of the tech titans that reported earnings this week. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) copped to the first year-over-year profit decline in company history last night. Data-storage supplier EMC (NYSE:EMC) chief executive Joe Tucci called a tech market bottom, even as his company reported a 9% drop in sales.

Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation VMware (NYSE:VMW), whose virtualization technology is key to greener data centers, was one of the few tech businesses delivering positive growth. Revenue improved 7% year over year, while per-share profit jumped 64%. But even here, skeptics had reason to grouse; VMware also suffered the first sequential revenue decline in its history as a public company.

Of all the techies checking in with investors this week, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) performed best. A slight dip in Mac sales notwithstanding, the iEmpire crushed the Street's expectations, as iPhone revenue quadrupled from last year's fiscal second quarter. Talk about impressive.

But Apple is the rare winner in tech right now. Investors are therefore best served by exercising prudence in picking stocks -- stick to the very best -- and patience in waiting for gains. That's how David Gardner produced a decade of 20% returns in the real-money Rule Breaker portfolio. Tom Gardner's "simpleton portfolio" was also a 10-year winner. With these five tech stocks, I believe I'll achieve similar success.

Checkup time!
Let's move on to the rest of today's update:

  • Investors and IT managers alike have expressed mixed feelings over Oracle's planned $7.4 billion buyout of Sun Microsystems. To assuage fears, Ken Jacobs, who leads product strategy for Oracle's server technologies, spoke at this week's annual MySQL user conference. MySQL is an open-source database that's proven popular for Web software, and which has been described as a threat to Oracle's core franchise. Jacobs used his time on stage to speak of a history of collaboration between Oracle and MySQL and promised more, The Register's Gavin Clarke reported. 

There's your checkup. See you back here next week for more tech stock talk.

Get your clicks with more techie Foolishness:

Akamai, Harris & Harris, and VMware are Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and stock positions in Akamai, Harris & Harris, IBM, Oracle, and Taiwan Semiconductor at the time of publication. Check out his portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool.

The Motley Fool owns is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is tech-tastic.