The recovery isn't yet a sure thing

09/08/2009 3:10 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

In my 11:45 post today, “Huh? Wall Street thinks higher unemployment is good news?” I said that I was still not convinced that the economic recession was truly over. The recovery that we’ve seen signs of in the last few months could simply be inventory restocking. That’s when companies that have put off reordering for months and months because sales were so slow finally decide to restock.

But, and this is what’s critical, these companies aren’t planning on reordering in anything like normal volumes anytime soon, because their customers still aren’t buying much.

It’s tough, I mean really tough, to tell the difference between recovery and restocking. And I’ve seen signs recently of both.

But there are more signs than Wall Street wants to admit that the recovery of the last few months has been caused by inventory restocking rather than by a true upswing in end demand.

That worries me because it sets stocks up for a disappointment.

So I’m tracking the news in this area across as many industries as I can.

Last week the chip industry delivered some bad news. Digitimes reported that Qualcomm (QCOM), Altera (ALTR), and Xilinx (XLNX) have all reduced their fourth quarter orders at the foundries that make their chips. Qualcomm is projected to have reduced its orders at foundries that include Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) by 10% to 15% from third quarter levels

The reductions from Altera and Xilinx are larger, Digitimes reported. Altera has reduced orders by 25% to 30% from the third quarter and Xilinx has cut its orders by 10% to 15%.

This could be just a reflection of weakness at specific companies or in specific technology sectors. Orders from other chip makers are still moving in the other direction with Broadcom (BRCM), Nvidia (NVDA), Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), and Atheros (ATHR) all raising the size of their orders quarter to quarter.

But the question of whether the recovery is firmly in place or not is more open than any investor wants to admit on his or her bullish days.

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