By now you must know that we think small investors stand greater risks on Wall Street than the big manipulators with big computer systems. Their money machines are able to react to fleeting fluctuations.
The result: They reap virtually riskless profits while the rest of us are left with a big crap shoot.We were lulling ourselves to sleep the other night by plowing through our usual stack of yard high literature. (That's about a week's accumulation of the stuff we read to keep up with what computer industry companies are up to.) Our nodding eyelids were opened by a surprising chart. It summarized past and present stock prices for dozens of computer industry companies with publicly traded stocks.
A lot of the prices rested near one-year lows. In most cases, those stock prices should have been near one-year highs!
It signaled to us that smart investors should be grabbing up shares in those companies. Buyers had to be cold-blooded enough to hold onto the shares for some stormy months, maybe as long as a year. Even then, no prices were guaranteed to go up. But those are the usual odds when you play the Wall Street Crap Shoot.
If you're a gambler - and we know from your letters that many steady readers are - here are some firms whose stock prices seem to us to be very deflated right now.
Apple Computers (AAPL-OTC) is the first company on the chart that caught our eye. It's true that dumb planning led to quite an over-supply of memory chips in Apple's coffers. However, other firms ran up red ink because they couldn't get memory chips during much of the past year.
Apple's bigger blunder was mispricing its Macs. That led to some erosion of buyer confidence in this expensive hardware. But Apple is selling its hardware fast enough to turn a respectable profit. It will continue to do so. We don't see any place for Apple shares to go but up.
Cray Research (CYR-NY) has been subject to the same jitters which sent Apple's shares into the basement. Much of the blame can be laid to the fact that one of the firm's major supercomputer designers quit to go independent.
But Cray's stable of state-of-the-art supercomputers already designed and on sale can't be matched by anybody. Not anybody! In our books, Cray shares are a legal steal.
AST Research (OTC) makes one of the best regarded personal computers in the industry. When it comes to computer pros, about the only mass-marketed brands better known or better liked could be IBM, Compaq, and Apple.
It's true that AST has been riding out some recent storms. We, too, got nervous about the company's ability to stay afloat when it drifted into making high-speed, high-priced 386 type PCs. It didn't help when one of AST's three founders left.
But the firm's reputation is intact. Its product line has remained high quality and high value. So its shares look to us like another bargain right now.
Data General (DGN-NY), once a blue chip stock, has taken a beating. Some of it was deserved, much of it simply over-reaction to the company's slow adjustment to changing major markets. We don't think Data General, the company, can budge IBM, the giant, from its top-of-the-wall perch. But Data General stocks look like solid paper right now.
Dell Computers (OTC) is suffering mostly from a name change. When Mr. Dell's company used to be called PC's Limited, it was known as a ruthless price-cutter of surprisingly high quality PC compatibles. It continues to cut prices and maintain quality.
The firm's extensive, expensive ad campaign will correct its obscurity. If you buy shares before that happens, you may go along in an upward ride to fame and fortune.
Wall Street pros, swayed by rumors as much as facts, have of late shied away from disk drive makers. It was a normal reaction to the general overexpansion among these makers who anticipated personal computer sales that never came.
But shareholders took their beating last year for those blunders. Now the companies are lean, and they're selling plenty of disk drives to churn up profits.
Disk makers who we think are well worth gambling on include Alloy (OTC), Micropolis (OTC), Miniscribe (OTC), Priam (OTC), and Seagate Technology (OTC).
Some makers of disks and peripheral computer equipment are riskier bets, we feel. But often the bigger the risk the bigger the eventual reward! In this group we put Tandon Corp. (OTC), Rexon Incorp. (OTC) and Tektronix Incorporated (TEK-NY).
Other sterling high-tech companies with 24 carat products or services, unalloyed marketing and surprisingly low stock prices include Gandalf (OTC), Interleaf (OTC), Printronix (OTC), Western Digital (WDC-AM) and Northern Telecom (NT-NY)
As a service to readers, the columnists answer questions and send a checklist of back issues if you enclose a stamped self-addressed envelope. A special report, `Classics in Computer Games,' reviews more than 40 games highly recommended by Peterson and K-Turkel for computers from Commodore to IBM compatibles.