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Trendspotting: Companies Competing in 3-D Technology


In speculative investing, try to figure out what the next big thing is, and who's going to supply it.

Editor's Note: This column kicks off a TrendSpotting series by Carol Kopp which looks at big trends for small investors and how you can get in on them. Anything trendsters start following could create investment opportunities if you know where to look.

One of the best business books ever isn't really a business book but a social history. The Fifties is David Halberstam's giant all-inclusive survey of the people of that decade and the needs and desires, fears and hopes that drove them and, Halberstam argues, transformed our world in the process.

There's strong stuff here: The rise of the Civil Rights movement, the development of The Pill, the advent of Elvis Presley.

But some of the best chapters are about entrepreneurs who recognized needs and filled them. Kemmons Wilson couldn't find a decent roadside motel for his family during a road trip to Washington DC. Hence Holiday Inn (now owned by International Hotel Group (IHG)). Two California brothers opened a restaurant that catered to young families on a budget. Hello, McDonald's (MCD). A homebuilder saw the future in the suburbs, and called it Levittown.

They and others had the smarts to identify the unmet needs of a generation that was transformative by nature. Having grown up in the Great Depression and given up years of their lives to World War II, these folks were more than ready to rock 'n' roll.

It all makes so much sense now, from a distance of more than 50 years. But unless you have a WayBack machine, it doesn't do you a fat lot of good to be certain that you'd have invested in McDonald's when it went public in 1965, if you'd been alive then and had possessed any cash.

That's the fun of speculative investing. You try to figure out what the next big thing is, and who's going to supply it. On the scale of sound investments, this may fall somewhere between a Vegas slot machine and a South American mining company. So it's no fun at all if you invest more than you can afford to lose.

Which brings us to this week's subject: 3-D technology. Movie Director James Cameron reportedly bet $400 million of other people's money on Avatar, which grossed more than $600 million in its first few weeks in the US alone; 81% of that money paid for 3-D screenings.

The success of Avatar is adding inevitability to the growth and popularization of 3-D technology. Which is pretty funny, since this is the second coming of 3-D, which fizzled in an early, cruder form in -- you guessed it -- the 1950s, although mini-boomlets occurred both earlier and later.

This time, there are more potential uses than folks in the '50s dreamed of: not just movies, but video games, home cameras and home video, arcade games and casino games, and professional applications for creative, design and modeling work.

Here are some pieces of the 3-D puzzle, and the public companies that are competing to get in on it.

(This doesn't mean that any of these companies' stocks are recommended by Minyanville or by this writer. It means that they're in the 3-D game, and may be worth the research for their investment potential.)

Home Products

Companies including Panasonic (PC), Samsung (which doesn't trade on US exchanges), Sony (SNE), and LG all introduced 3-D televisions at the recent Consumer Electronic Show. Most depended on the use of battery-operated 3-D glasses and a blu-ray player.

As ever in new technology development, there will be a standards battle. The big guys seem to be assuming, at least for now, that 3-D at home will display on an LCD monitor, and will require battery-operated infrared glasses that alternately screen the left eye and right eye as the movie flickers through each frame, giving the illusion of 3-D.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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