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Tech Bridged Gaps Created by Coronavirus

And what we expect from October.

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Editor’s note: Read the latest on how the coronavirus is rattling the markets and what investors can do to navigate it.

Brian Colello: Technology has been a significant outperformer to the broader market in 2020. Over the past 12 months, as of Sept. 2, tech was up 65% year-to-date versus 25% for the broader market. Over the past three months, again ending on Sept. 2, tech was up 21% versus 16% for the broader market. And again, as of Sept. 2, the median technology stock was about 15% overvalued in our view. So, this is one of the frothiest valuations we've seen in tech since about 2007.

Now, software has continued to do really well in 2020 as it's been minimally affected by COVID. Some tech firms have even been countercyclical to the market, and they've been winners in the work-from-home trend. The median software stock in our view is 19% overvalued versus 11% undervalued at this time a quarter ago. We think growth will be somewhat slower in 2020 inevitably, but we think business conditions will bounce back in 2021. Employees still need to access software while working from home.

Now, remote working will likely continue to be adopted, which is good news for names like Zoom (ZTNO), Microsoft (MSFT), Slack (WORK), DocuSign (DOCU), and some others, but we think valuations are full today. Cybersecurity is also seeing a boost in spending, especially for cloud vendors like Zscaler (ZS), Okta (OKTA), and CrowdStrike (CRWD).

Across technology, hardware names are fairly valued, but generally, we don't see a lot of wide moats in that subsegment of tech. The higher-quality software, semis, and cybersecurity names are a bit expensive, but names we still like are Palo Alto Networks (PANW) and VMware (VMW).

Looking ahead to October earnings, we will be keeping an eye on business conditions in software and cybersecurity, any signs of deal delays or cancelations. We will also be looking at demand for semiconductors. Over the past six months, data centers and PC spending was strong. We'll see if that's softened or if they're still spending there as companies refresh their IT equipment. Now, automotive chip demand cratered due to manufacturing shutdowns at the start of COVID. So, we're expecting a near-term bounceback there, but we'll see how well that recovers.

And then, finally, we've seen a lot about U.S.-China trade tensions and geopolitical risk in the past few months. The U.S. government's ban on Huawei, which started last year and has been ramping up has continued to weigh on U.S. technology demand for over a year now. There's certainly complexity about how TikTok will ultimately be handled, WeChat in China, and perhaps other technologies, both in China and then even retaliatory in the U.S.

Brian Colello does not own (actual or beneficial) shares in any of the securities mentioned above. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.