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Apple Inc. Sales Abroad, Cisco's Slump Prove Tech Investors Need Nuanced View of Global Stocks


A new survey by Deloitte & Touche shows that venture capital investors are cherry-picking, and looking deeply into global stock conditions.

Investors in Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) were so deeply unimpressed by the company's latest quarterly results that the stock lost more than 7% of its value Thursday, closing at $24.47.

Among the deeply unimpressive facts were the numbers on the company's performance in three countries that had been among the world's hottest investment targets for the past 10 years. Business in Brazil and Russia was flat, and in China it was down 6%, CEO John Chambers said on the Cisco earnings call. Sales in the entire Asia-Pacific region overall were down 3%.

Moreover, positive signs of growth in Japan and elsewhere aren't likely to give the company much of a boost in the short term. That was the apparent reasoning behind the company's plan to shrink its workforce by 5%: "The necessity of a 5% reduction in force is likely the key indication that a macro recovery in key regions like Japan is not in the near-term outlook," Chambers said.

The bleak figures above, however, mask better news in the numbers: Overall, Cisco's sales in emerging markets were up 8%. So, some or all of the darlings of the past decade of investing -- known as the BRICs, for Brazil, Russia, India and China -- may see their growth slow for a while. But they'll be replaced by other new names -- with the addition of some old stalwarts like the US and even parts of Europe.

A newly-released survey of 400 venture capital, private equity, and growth equity investors around the world shows growing confidence in the US as a place to invest money. In fact, it found investing sentiment currently favoring the US over all other regions of the world.

The survey, conducted by Deloitte & Touche LLP and the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), asked investors to rank their confidence in each nation's or region's investment potential on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the top possible score.

You don't have to be a big-time venture capitalist to see the way they're thinking. The signs of cherry-picking are clear throughout.

Confidence in Germany and Japan are growing. But there's relatively less confidence in France and China. Israel is looking fairly strong. But nobody's even asking about Egypt, once seen as a fast-growing economy, but now embroiled in civil unrest.

Overall, the US scored 4 out of a possible 5 in investor confidence.

Oddly, American investors were not necessarily as upbeat as their foreign counterparts. Although American confidence in America came in close to the overall score, it showed a 3% decline from the previous year's results, while China recorded a 37% increase in confidence in America, and Germany a 28% increase.

Among emerging regions, only Southeast Asia saw increased confidence over last year's survey, with a score of 3.42 out of 5. Declines were recorded for Brazil, China and India, among others.

Overall, confidence in US investment opportunities increased 4% over the results of last year's survey, while Brazil and China were both down 6%, and Latin America was down 5%.

The short message is that "the US has its challenges," but "our issues are familiar and addressable," said Mark Heesen, president of the NVCA.

It also means that every company -- and every global stock investor -- is going to have to judge which way the economic winds are blowing.

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is widely considered to be gearing up to release a cheaper iPhone, primarily to shore up its international sales. In its most recent results, affluent consumers in Japan gave the company its sole boost in sales abroad. Sales were down year-over-year in Europe and China, and flat in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole.

A cheaper iPhone is not exactly a surefire win, since every other mobile company already has contenders in the field, including homegrown brands in China.

As far as those big-bucks venture capitalists are concerned, global investing is still about technology, and primarily about Internet-related technologies. In the Deloitte survey, the five top-rated sectors in terms of investor confidence were mobile; cloud computing and related software services; enterprise software; consumer software, and new media and social media.

It's important to note that investors are not moving on from China or Brazil because those nations are failing economically, but because they have succeeded in raising the living standards of vast numbers of their citizens.

And in the end, the biggest beneficiary might be the United States. The New York Times argues that the BRIC nations' strategy worked exactly as US investors had hoped it would. It created new markets for American products abroad, while workers in the BRIC nations manufactured the products that consumers in the developed world wanted to buy.

Also see:

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Apple Inc. Would Be in Trouble With or Without Steve Jobs

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