(L-R) Amazon’s chief Jeff Bezos, Larry Page of Alphabet, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower December 14, 2016.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
The five most valuable U.S. tech companies all report quarterly earnings this week, marking the last time investors will see the their financials before next week’s presidential election.
Big Tech, their collective moniker, has been a huge outperformer during President Trump’s first term. The founders of Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook are now the three richest people in the world, and Google’s two co-founders are in the top 10.
Add in Apple, the biggest U.S. company by market cap, and you’ve got almost $7 trillion in stock market value, accounting for 46% of the Nasdaq 100. The stocks are up between 83% (Alphabet) and 291% (Amazon), though they slumped this week along with the broader market on concerns over rising coronavirus cases.
Big Tech under Trump
The group’s increased influence over consumer behavior, financial markets and the economy has made it an outsized target for Washington lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent part of his day on Wednesday, along with Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, testifying remotely in front of the Senate Commerce Committee about the legal liability shield for their platforms.
Similarly, the day before they announced results in July, the CEOs of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple spent hours answering questions from the House Antitrust Committee about their power and influence. According to a report earlier this month from House Democrats, those four companies hold monopoly power and, to varying degrees, should be broken up. Google was just sued by the Department of Justice for alleged anti-competitive behavior.
Even with their companies flourishing and benefiting from reduced corporate tax rates, tech workers have been critical of the Trump administration’s anti-immigration policies, trade war with China and exhaustive efforts to roll back climate protection measures.
Employees are putting their money behind the Democrats. They’ve donated 20 times the amount of money to Joe Biden’s campaign as they have to Trump’s reelection bid and 10 times as much to Democratic candidates as Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s the backdrop for Big Tech earnings season.
Microsoft kicked off reporting on Tuesday, disclosing 12% revenue growth, beating analysts’ estimates, though its outlook was a bit light. The other four are scheduled to announce results after the bell on Thursday, just five days before the election.
Here’s how they’ve fared since Trump took office, in order of stock performance:
The 291% stock surge has been driven by consistent expansion in its core e-commerce unit and booming growth in its newer cloud-computing and advertising businesses. Analysts expect second-quarter sales growth of 33% from a year earlier, despite the pandemic.
Should annual revenue reach $370 billion, as analysts predict based on Refinitiv estimates, it will be up 170% from 2016. Some of that growth comes from upscale grocery chain Whole Foods, which Amazon bought in 2017 for $13.7 billion. It was the priciest deal announced by any of the five biggest tech companies since Trump took office, and marked Amazon’s most expansive move into physical retail.
Because of Amazon Web Services, the company is suddenly churning out profits and is no longer viewed as a low-margin retail play. Operating income is expected to top $20 billion this year, up almost five-fold from 2016.
Unlike Amazon, Apple’s 272% market cap increase is not a reflection of growth, which has been subdued. Sales in the latest quarter are expected to be down slightly from a year earlier and revenue for the calendar year is projected to come in at about $283 million, up only 29% from 2016. Net income is expected to reach $59 billion, a similar percentage increase.
Apple has rewarded investors with buybacks, repurchasing close to $200 billion worth of stock since 2016, and increased dividend payments. It’s made up for flattening iPhone revenue by building a healthy software and services business and by introducing popular products like AirPods and bolstering Apple Watch sales.
Apple continues to crank out new iPhones and investors continue to bet that consumers will buy them. Earlier this month, the company announced its new lineup of iPhone 12 models, all of which support faster 5G networks. The highest-end device is priced at $1,099.
“We believe wireless carriers are going to offer promotions to drive unit sales of iPhones to a much greater degree than they have in a long time to justify the billions of dollars they are spending to upgrade their networks,” wrote Tom Forte, an analyst at D.A. Davidson, in a report on Oct. 22. Forte recommends buying the stock and says, “Apple’s first lineup of smartphones on 5G networks are better positioned than investors completely appreciate.”
Microsoft’s revival was underway before Trump took office, under CEO Satya Nadella, who took over in 2014. But the company’s turnaround has become undeniable in the last few years as the company’s growing cloud division made up for a deteriorating desktop software business. The stock has surged 225% in the Trump era.
Revenue growth has been in the double digits each of the past three fiscal years, after sales fell in 2016 and rose 5.5% the following year. For calendar 2020, revenue is expected to come in at about $150 billion, almost a 60% jump from four years ago. Net income has almost doubled as Microsoft’s investments in Azure and Office 365 started paying off in a big way.
Satya Nadella in New Delhi, India.
Ramesh Pathania | Mint | Getty Images
Microsoft has made two sizable acquisitions during the Trump administration. Coming off its $27 billion purchase of LinkedIn, which was announced a few months before Trump was elected, the company spent $7.5 billion on software development service GitHub in 2018 and the same amount last month on ZeniMax Media, owner of video game publisher Bethesda.
Facebook, whose stock is up 112% since Trump became president, has grown the most among the group during his tenure, but is coming off the smallest base. Full year sales for 2020 of $80.4 billion, as projected by analysts, would make the company almost three times bigger than it was in 2016. Net income has almost doubled.
However, sales growth has slowed every year, from 47% in 2017 to a projected 14% this year.
The big story swirling around Facebook since the 2016 election is its inadvertent role in influencing voters. Following reports that Russian operatives abused the platform to spread misinformation ahead of the 2016 contest, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, which showed how a third-party firm could harvest user profiles, Facebook has been on defense trying to clean up the site.
Despite its political challenges and issues related to consumer trust, Facebook remains the site that advertisers most rely on for targeting users. According to eMarketer, Facebook controls 23.4% of the U.S. online ad market, behind Google at 29.4%.
Facebook was on a buying spree from 2012 to 2014, spending $1 billion on Instagram, $19 billion on WhatsApp and $2 billion on Oculus. But its activity has been muted during the Trump administration. Its biggest deal over the last four years was the purchase of CTRL-labs, which specializes in allowing humans to control computers using their brains, for between $500 million and $1 billion.
Alphabet shares are up 83% since Trump took office. A year before he was elected, Alphabet was formed as the holding company for Google’s search and software products along with its so-called Other Bets like autonomous cars and anti-aging research.
Still, when it comes to revenue, Alphabet is Google, and Google is primarily driven by online advertising. Analysts are expecting revenue growth in the third quarter of 5.9% to $42.9 billion, a quarter after the company reported its first ever year-over-year decline. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on travel, hospitality and live events, leading those industries to pull way back on their online ad spending.
Google is now generating meaningful revenue from its cloud business, where it trails Amazon and Microsoft. The unit, which still doesn’t break out profits, pulled in just over $3 billion in the second quarter.
Overall, Alphabet is expected to report close to $174 billion in revenue for 2020, almost double its 2016 figure. The company has made big investments in areas that aren’t doing much business, so net income is only up about 30% over that stretch.
Alphabet’s only notable acquisition in the past four years came through its cloud group, as the company recognized that regulators will make it difficult if not impossible for Google to beef up its core business. In 2019, Google acquired data analytics company Looker for $2.6 billion.