Wall Street is underestimating how strong this tech rally really is, strategist says

The technology sector is making its comeback, closing in on record highs after a months-long pause. Even as it roars back, one strategist says Wall Street is underestimating its potential.

"Guidance was very, very good for this group and the first-quarter numbers were more impressive than any other sector that we've seen," Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA Research, told CNBC's "Trading Nation" on Thursday.

"Yet, the numbers, the consensus sell-side analyst numbers, they didn't move very much," she added. "We saw them increase a little bit for 2018 but 2019 numbers actually came down a little bit."

Earnings in information technology are expected to rise by 9.8 percent in fiscal 2019, lower than the estimated 11 percent growth before the first-quarter reporting season began, according to FactSet. Sector earnings were revised up 240 basis points to 18.6 percent growth in fiscal 2018.

It "was a bit surprising because this is a sector that in our view is going to drive economic growth going forward," said Bell.

Even if analysts are cautious, investors are joining in on the revival rally for tech. Facebook, whose data scandal ignited the March tech sell-offs, also proved its redeemer.

"Once [Facebook] earnings were fine and we got past that, we got great earnings from a couple of other names like Microsoft and Intel — they raised guidance, everything was great so the sector started moving up," said Bell.

The information technology sector has increased 9 percent since April 25, the day Facebook reported earnings. The tech sector last suffered a drop of more than 1 percent a day earlier. Over that same period, the S&P 500 has increased just over 3 percent.

The XLK technology ETF is 2 percent from its all-time intraday highs set on March 13.

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Facebook kicked off the tech sell-offs in March following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Concerns over Facebook privacy led CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify in Congress and, separately, before European lawmakers.

Those regulatory concerns remain an issue, according to Bell.

"That is definitely a concern that weighs over this sector, in particular, and maybe that is partially why the [guidance] numbers haven't come up more significantly," said Bell. "Facebook and Google and others, they're talking about spending more money on privacy, they're making a greater focus of it so the consumer can tell that they're more interested in improving their privacy settings but the numbers aren't moving."

The biggest threat to the tech sector still lies in lingering worries over a trade war with China, Bell said. That possible outcome could wreak havoc on chips stocks.

"We see the semiconductors as the most negatively impacted by any trade war with China," she said. "President Trump is very, very focused on intellectual property that they are stealing from the United States and most of that intellectual property lies within the semiconductor space."

The specter of a trade war has kept semiconductor stocks from racing past the rest of the tech sector this year. The PHLX semiconductor SOXX ETF has increased more than 8 percent this year, in line with the Nasdaq 100 and below the S&P information technology sector's 11 percent gain.

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Trading Nation is a multimedia financial news program that shows investors and traders how to use the news of the day to their advantage. This is where experts from across the financial world – including macro strategists, technical analysts, stock-pickers, and traders who specialize in options, currencies, and fixed income – come together to find the best ways to capitalize on recent developments in the market. Trading Nation: Where headlines become opportunities.

Michael Santoli

Michael Santoli joined CNBC in October 2015 as a Senior Markets Commentator, based at the network's Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.  Santoli brings his extensive markets expertise to CNBC's Business Day programming, with a regular appearance on CNBC's “Closing Bell (M-F, 3PM-5PM ET).   In addition, he contributes to CNBCand CNBC PRO, writing regular articles and creating original digital videos.

Previously, Santoli was a Senior Columnist at Yahoo Finance, where he wrote analysis and commentary on the stock market, corporate news and the economy. He also appeared on Yahoo Finance video programs, where he offered insights on the most important business stories of the day, and was a regular contributor to CNBC and other networks.

Follow Michael Santoli on Twitter @michaelsantoli

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