Technology stocks are hogging the headlines on Wall Street these days, setting what some analysts believe might be a new theme for the market in 1993.
While stocks in general are off to a sluggish start on the new year, many technology issues have been jumping.If this keeps up, some observers say, the group could become the focus of activity the way consumer growth stocks did in 1991 and cyclical industrial companies did in the first half of last year.
Intel, a leading producer of microprocessers for personal computers and other equipment, has been the most celebrated example.
The shares of the Santa Clara, Calif., company have soared past $100 for the first time, more than doubling since last summer, riding the crest of a boom in the PC business.
The stock climbed more than $8 in a single session last week when the company reported quarterly earnings that outstripped analysts' expectations.
But Intel and some of its fellow semiconductor companies - like Motorola and Texas Instruments, which both have been hitting record or multi-year highs of late - are only one part of the story.
Recent days have also seen heavy buying of stocks like Cisco Systems, a supplier of products for linking computer networks together; Apple Computer and Micro-soft.
In last Thursday's session alone, enthusiasm over earnings reports prompted multipoint jumps in Digital Equipment; Xilinx, a manufacturer of computer devices, and Parametric Technology, which specializes in computer systems for engineering and design.
Faced with such developments, analysts are scrambling to try to divine whether the tech stocks represent a new wave of market leadership, or just one of Wall Street's passing frenzies.
"We believe the U.S. economy is on the threshold of a major technological revolution, led by the personal computer," asserts Edward Yardeni, chief economist at C.J. Lawrence Inc. "This revolution will continue to boost productivity well above the anemic growth of the 1970s and 1980s.
"High-tech equipment spending now accounts for 44.7 percent of spending on all capital equipment, up from 17.6 percent 15 years ago.
"The stock prices of personal computer and semiconductor manufacturers are soaring. These may turn out to be among the growth stocks of the 1990s."
At Salomon Brothers Inc., analysts are talking about "the big trade of the 1990s - swap expensive real estate into cheap telecommunication."
Their thesis holds that advances in communications - exemplified by tools like fax machines and cellular telephones, as well as computer networks - are giving both business and individuals a kind of long-term mobility they didn't previously have.
"Mobile communities of interest, rather than fixed geographic neighborhoods, have become the means by which people identify themselves," Salomon says.