Is 2012 the year that many believe will mark the end of the world? But if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are not, you may want to make some smart long-term investments with a different kind of 'riders'.
In the 90's, Intel, Microsoft, Dell and Cisco were the so-called "four horsemen of technology ': technology companies that are high profile and public, no doubt, contributed to solid growth for investors year after year. For nearly two decades, the four firms had the keys to the technological growth machine: the personal computer, Intel processors manufactured; Microsoft produced the software; Dell PCs and Cisco was the connecting network.
But things have changed. The PC is no longer driving the technological growth. Mobile phones, tablets and the computing 'cloud' are breaking new ground.
So who should replace the old guard? A survey asking 30 experts in technology, from market analysts and technology consultants to fund managers, was conducted asking them to choose four public companies. The results are clear: Apple, Google, Amazon and IBM are the new four horsemen of technology. As expected, the four companies are leaders in mobile technology computing or 'cloud'.
Apple: The vote was not really that close. Apple was the undisputed leader, appearing in 84% of the votes of the experts. It is no surprise: it is the most valuable technology company in the stock market, and it is one of the fastest growing. The company is at the forefront of the revolution smartphones and iPad created a new category - mobile computing.
"I think the computer tablet will be one of the next 'big things' in technology, and Apple has a near monopoly in this market, "said Zeus Kerravala, an independent technology analyst ZK Research. The company is taking other key trends in technology, with its iCloud high profile.
Google: Of the experts surveyed, 70% placed it in his selection of top 4. "Search is still the prevailing wind for the monetization of the web and that will continue for the foreseeable future," said Michael Grossi, director of Altman Vilandrie & Co.
Of course, the firm has grown beyond being 'just' a search company. Mobile advertising and printing industries are generating more than a billion dollars a year for the company.
The Android operating system runs on more smartphones than any other system. And if the offer of the company Motorola Mobility is approved, that will give Google control of both the hardware and the software for their devices.
Amazon: This firm, which appeared in 57% of the votes of the experts, is by far the lowest valuation company in the list. Its market capitalization is $US80 million. Google, the next smaller company, is valued at US$170 billion. But sales is projected to grow the company faster than any of his fellow 'horsemen'.
"The central market of Amazon is still in its 'infancy', since only 5% of the trading is done online," said Steve Lidberg, director of research at Pacific Crest Securities. "The company is also destined to be the most disruptive technology with a business model that relies on narrow margins, providing the flexibility to make investment decisions that others might avoid."
The company sells e-book readers and tablets Kindle for little or no gain, to support its retail and content. However, the biggest gamble of Amazon's happening in the cloud, with its web services and hosting business.
"Today is a retail outlet, with one foot in technology," said Vanessa Alvarez, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Tomorrow will be a technology company running a retail business."
IBM: With 40% of the votes of the experts, IBM surpassed Microsoft (37%) to become the fourth 'horseman'.
The technology SmartCloud IBM is helping to provide a powerful analysis to governments and small businesses, optimizing everything from road building to call centers.
"The importance of computer analysis of all types and depth of their portfolio in these areas is unmatched," said Susan Feldman, an analyst at IDC. "These technologies are vital to complete the understanding of what is happening and why."
The revolution of 'big data' is leading the technology has led to many successful initiatives, including Smarter Planet and Watson, who plays computer Jeopardy!. That's one reason why the shares of the company 100 years rose 25% last year.
There are no sure bets: In the technology market, the icons can fall hard and fast. The actions of three of the original four horsemen have fallen over the last 10 years, while Cisco has dropped substantially from where it was five years ago.
Meanwhile, new riders have been a great investment in the 21st Century. Apple shares have risen 3.650% in the last decade, and Amazon has advanced 1.160%. Google has grown 550% since its IPO in 2004. Even the great IBM recorded a rise 90% in the last 10 years.
But no guarantees. Only a few years ago, Research In Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, might have come to this list. Or even Netflix. That prompted one analyst to choose the 'no' in their selection of four riders.
"There are no safe investments in technology right now," said Ed Zabitzsky, an analyst with ACI Research. "I've never seen so much change at the same time. The change involves the disruption of the market and lower prices, and often involves the commercialization".