The major home computer manufacturers' brutal price war has finally caught up with the prices of their stocks.
Texas Instruments Inc., the Dallas-based semiconductor, electronics and computer company, revealed over the weekend that it might report a second quarter loss as high as $100 million. The announcement dropped the opening price of Texas Instruments stock by $39.50 to $118.25 a share yesterday.
The company said that the loss could be traced to lower-than-expected sales of home computers and software.
The Texas Instruments announcement quickly pushed other home computer issues into decline: Commodore International dropped 3 1/4 to 57; Coleco was off by 3 to 54 7/8; and Tandy, the Texas-based maker of Radio Shack computers, fell 2 3/4 to 53 5/8.
"T.I. has always had trouble in the consumer market in general. They are a bunch of engineers out of Dallas," said Lee Isgur, an analyst with Paine, Webber. "I think they will do what they did in the digital watch market--get out."
While a spokesman for the company denied that Texas Instruments would abandon the low-end home computer market, he did say that the company would "reduce production plans for both hardware and software." In a statement issued last week, the company said that 1983 would be a "significantly poorer" year for the company than 1982, without offering details. The company recently had to write off several million dollars to repair possible electrical problems in its 99/4A home computer.
Analysts say that the problem at Texas Instruments reflects both strategic errors by the company and a crazy-quilt marketplace where prices and profit margins spiral downwards as companies fight to capture market share.
"It's getting tougher and rougher," said Esther Dyson, editor of RELease 1.0, an industry newsletter. "There are too many players, and none show discretion in pricing. The problem isn't so much strong competitors--it's that there are weak competitors, companies that are desperate."
It is unclear whether Texas Instruments has reached the point of desperation, but several analysts and industry insiders believe that the company's strategy has helped lead it into its present difficulties.
Unlike other computer vendors such as Atari and Commodore, Texas Instruments did not encourage software produced by other firms for its machines, figuring instead that they would provide a captive market for T.I.'s own computer programs. Thus, Texas Instruments would make up on the sale of software and various computer peripherals what it lost by discounting the price of its machines.
Unfortunately, most consumers in the market for a home computer did not perceive the software supply as either adequate enough or exciting enough, said Paine, Webber's Isgur. This perception cost T.I. dearly.
Meanwhile, fueled by price cuts, sales for Commodore's VIC-20 and 64 machines continued to grow as the company established itself as the low-cost, high-volume supplier of home computers. Commodore issued a statement yesterday distancing itself from the T.I. revelation, saying it is "confident that the current quarter will not only be a record sales period for Commodore but also a record profit period."
"Commodore was running a very lean organization to prepare for a long price war," said Barbara Isgur, also a Paine, Webber analyst. "T.I. did not, and they got caught in the squeeze."
Now trying to exploit its hardware base, Commodore revealed at last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago that it would introduce a line of low-cost computer software.
Atari also has moved aggressively in the home computer field by introducing a family of low-cost machines that are compatible with existing Atari software. Coleco, which entered the home video game market only last year, introduced the Adam system--a computer system complete with letter-quality printer--for under $600. CAPTION: Illustration, Price cuts, rebates and dealer discounts have pushed the price of the Texas Instruments home computer below $100. By Gail McCrory -- The Washington Post