• Our panelists give you the scoop on all the inside business information before you hear it anywhere else in The Informer segment:

    David Asman: The Forbes "Billionaires" Issue is out. Leigh Gallagher, what have you learned from the list?

    Leigh Gallagher, staff writer: There's been a lot of talk about technology stocks that may have bottomed out after thirteen months of sell-off. The fortunes of some really high profile tech billionaires are setting to creep up again after really getting hammered.

    David Asman: This doesn't mean they've been out on the street begging, right?

    Leigh Gallagher: No. We're talking about names like Larry Ellison worth $23.5 billion slightly up from $21.9 billion last fall.

    David Asman: Quentin, does this mean that tech is turning around?

    Quentin Hardy, senior editor: Tech is turning around in selected areas. Tech is not going to be exuberant. Securities and databases do seem to be coming back nicely.

    David Asman: Okay. Scott Woolley, tell us what's happening with AOL (AOL).

    Scott Woolley, associate editor: Their stock has been hammered even to post moderate growth. Their subscribers are low. If you look at the numbers, even how they're getting that moderate growth, they're doing it by giving away a lot of subscriptions. Up to a 1/3, according to CIBC, of their subscribers now don't pay for the service. And how many of those free subscribers will stay around from years to come?

    Chana Schoenberger, staff writer: What does that mean for the company now that the Time Warner company has been hit by the advertising slump?

    Scott Woolley: That was supposed to be their cash cow and AOL, the media side would eventually sort of save the stock with all the growth. Not only do they not have the cash flow today. It doesn't look like they'll have it in the future either.

    David Asman: Sometimes it works to give out free trials. Consumers get hooked and then they buy into it.

    Scott Woolley: The percentage of people not paying, as compared to three years, has tripled.

    David Asman: Okay. Let's move on to Quentin. You've got something about WI-FI?

    Quentin Hardy, senior editor: WI-FI is a wireless networking technology. It all started about 10 years ago beaming a little message over to their printer in their office. A couple of grass roots guys managed to find a way to get whole neighborhoods have high speed data very cheaply. It's just like the growth of the PC and the Linux and the server software.

    David Asman: Which companies are positioned to take advantage of them?

    Quentin Hardy: There are a couple of big companies that are beginning to notice and making big bets on it. Those companies are Cisco Systems (CSCO) and Intel (INTC).

    David Asman: And Leigh, you combine this information with the information you have from the billionaire's list. It sounds like tech might be ready for a turnaround.

    Leigh Gallagher: There are certainly a lot of new areas to create wealth.

    David Asman: Okay. Let's keep it on hi-tech. Chana, what have you got?

    Chana Schoenberger: I've got the RFID tag, Radio Frequency ID. In about 10 years, RFID's are going to replace barcodes.

    David Asman: What do they do that barcodes don't do?

    Chana Schoenberger: They have an individual number that says that it's yours, for example a bottled water. What that means is that companies will be able to track inventories on every product. Texas Instruments (TXN), which makes the chips, has a huge position in RFID. They're the folks behind EZ Pass and the Exxon-Mobil Speedpass.

    Quentin Hardy: If all those products are talking to each other, there's going to be huge databases being built up. All kind of predictive products.

    Makers and Breakers

    Home Depot (HD)

    Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Maria Fiorini Ramirez, Inc.: MAKER

    The fourth quarter is history but the numbers for its future look good. I like the kinds of things you can touch and feel and Home Depot is like that. I think housing is going to be strong and as the economy recovers, Home Depot will rise.

    Bill Baldwin, editor: MAKER

    I like Home Depot. I was in a Home Depot just the other day renting a concrete saw. I could've hired somebody for $500 to cut up my basement floor, so why was I doing it? It would've cost me $1,000 to earn, pre-taxed, to get the money to get a contractor and he would've only kept $200 when he got done with his taxes. So there's the spread. That's why America is turning into a bunch of do-it-yourselfers.

    Mike Ozanian, senior editor: BREAKER

    I don't like Home Depot and I'll tell you why. I don't think it's going to sustain it's growth rate. Two years ago the company was generating $2.90 in sales for every dollar of capital it was investing. It's down to $2.70. By squeezing suppliers and cutting costs, it's put its gross margin to an all time high.

    Duke Energy (DUK)

    Maria Fiorini Ramirez: MAKER

    Duke Energy has two million customers in powerline. A chunk of their revenues comes from trading energy. It's not another Enron and I think that whatever dirt that has come out of in terms of problems is history. Another reason I like it is you have to get some dividend for equity investments. They have a 3% dividend.

    Mike Ozanian: MAKER

    I like it. I think the 3% yield is very safe. The company is generating three times as much cash as its paying on the dividend. I feel very comfortable with that.

    Bill Baldwin: BREAKER

    Sorry I don't like Duke. Duke will give you a diagram where the pinpoint whether they can trade their way to profits, whether their energy prices will be going up or down. That gives me the heebie-jeebies.