Were These Oracles Blinded By The Bytes?

Computers can do lots, but they can't predict the future. Likewise, some Wall Street high-tech analysts had problems estimating fourth-quarter earnings. Though analysts came close with industry leaders such as Microsoft and IBM, they missed with a struggling trio of high-tech outfits (chart).

Look at Digital Equipment, now burdened with a move to reduced instruction-set computing (RISC) from minicomputers. The consensus of analysts, as compiled by Zacks Investment Research, had DEC, based in Maynard, Mass., with an 11 per-share gain. DEC, though, ended up with a 53 loss. The most bullish, Nomura's Sanjiv Hingorani, foresaw a 35 gain. He says he was preoccupied with getting married in December. Prudential Securities' Laura Canigliaro came closest (a 10 loss).

On Data General in Westborough, Mass., which suffers from the same woes as DEC, the consensus was a 17 loss--and the reality a harsher 60 dip. George Elling of Merrill Lynch, who called for a gain of up to 5 , blames foreign-currency swings. Morgan Stanley's Steven Milunovich called it closest: a 29 loss. And Borland International, a Scotts Valley (Calif.) software maker late getting into windows applications, surprised analysts (consensus: a 13 gain) with a meager 2 . Paul Johnson of First Boston (an 18 gain) says the gap "isn't all that significant." Montgomery Securities' Betty Lyter came closest: zero earnings.

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