December 5, 2021

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Big Tech’s blockbuster earnings undermine their arguments to Congress that they aren’t that big

From left to right, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook, and Jeff Bezos.
From left to right, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Tim Cook, and Jeff Bezos.

Getty/Carsten Koall/Michael Kovac/Business Insider composite

  • The four big tech giants announced blockbuster earnings on Thursday, just a day after testifying before the Congress on anticompetitive behaviour.

  • Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple added an additional $230 billion in market value.

  • Analysts warn that while there may be tougher times ahead for these companies, their business is far from reaching its peak. 

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Four of the biggest tech companies in the world – Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook – announced stronger-than-expected second-quarter earnings on Thursday, defying worries about Wednesday’s antitrust hearings and an ongoing pandemic. 

The strong results from the four companies, often categorized as “Big Tech,” comes a day after their CEOs testified before the Congress, defending the size of their companies

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple CEO Tim Cook took part in an ongoing investigation by the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee that looked into whether the big tech companies are using their position to control the market unfairly. 

It also comes at a time when the world is in the midst of containing a pandemic and the economic blowout is visible across sectors and the economy. On Thursday, the US gross domestic product fell at an annualized rate of 33% in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said Thursday. It’s the largest fall on record dating back to the 1940s. 

On Friday, the euro zone economy shrank at its fastest rate in history, losing 12.1% in the second-quarter. 

How big is Big Tech?

However, the pandemic seems to have helped Big Tech add another $230 billion of market value. With more people staying home during lockdown, there has been a surge in demand and usage.

On Wednesday, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg implied at the historic antitrust hearing that every other company was beating the social media giant.

“The most popular messaging service in the US is iMessage,” Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks, referring to Apple’s texting service. “The fastest-growing app is TikTok. The most popular app for video is YouTube. The fastest growing ads platform is Amazon. The largest ads platform is Google. And for every dollar spent on advertising in the US, less than 10 cents is spent with us.”

Yet on Thursday, Facebook’s earnings jumped 11% year-on-year. It reported daily active users of nearly 1.8 billion, 12% higher than last year, and monthly active users of 2.7 billion, another 12% rise.

This contrast — a Big Tech CEO playing down their size one day and revealing impressive earnings the next — was replicated across Amazon, Apple, and Alphabet, Google’s parent company. In Congress, these companies portrayed themselves as plucky success stories that faced fierce competition. Their balance sheets tell a different story.

Amazon reported record quarterly profit and a 40% bump in sales. In his opening remarks to Congress on Wednesday, Bezos had argued: “Every day, Amazon competes against large, established players like Target, Costco, Kroger, and, of course, Walmart—a company more than twice Amazon’s size.” This week, Bezos’ net worth has increased to $181 billion thanks to the rise in Amazon’s share price.

Apple reported Q3 revenues of $59.7 billion, more than $6 billion up on last year, and profits of $11.25 billion despite shuttering many of its stores.

Alphabet was the only one of the four to see revenue decline to $31.6 billion, down 2% year-on-year as advertising demand slowed, but it still beat Wall Street estimates.

Chart from Statista shows revenue of selected tech companies in the first six months of 2020 vs. 2019
Chart from Statista shows revenue of selected tech companies in the first six months of 2020 vs. 2019


Christopher Rossbach, CIO of J. Stern & Co., said in a research note that the antitrust hearings may mean some tough times ahead but these companies continue to grow. “Tougher times may lie ahead, and investors need to be aware that — as we have seen with the Congressional Hearing this week — politicians are growing increasingly concerned about the reach of these companies. But that doesn’t mean the business has peaked, indeed far from it.

On Amazon, Rossbach said, “We expect that more people will use ecommerce in future as habits will form, while Amazon has many more areas of retail spend to expand into. For example, just this week, Amazon announced a new service for the UK grocery sector which has seen online food delivery almost double over the last four months during the pandemic. In the US, with its large and loyal Amazon Prime membership base, Amazon can capture even more share than the estimated 4% that they currently have in US retail spend — we expect it to double in the next decade,” J.Stern & Co.’s Rossbach said. 

Meanwhile, Martin Garner, COO at CIS Insight said in a note that Facebook was insulated from the worst of the COVID-19 affects because smaller companies needed to move online quickly in order to reinvent themselves during the lockdown.

“Facebook saw healthy growth in user numbers, with those using any of the Facebook family of services in a month passing 3 billion for the first time during 2Q20. This extraordinary reach plus its strength in direct response advertising meant that Facebook saw less of a hit on its advertising business than others. These also helped increase the number of active advertisers on the platform to 9 million.”

Apple has a similar story to tell. The iPhone maker beat analyst expectations with its stock price crossing $400 per share for the first time on Thursday. 

“COVID-19 has demonstrated that Apple is a more diversified and resilient business than many gave them credit for. The unique dynamics of the pandemic saw the usual growth dynamics reverse with Mac and iPad flying high whilst iPhone and Watch slowed. Meanwhile, services has become the recurring revenue stream that delivers with remarkable consistency,” Geoff Blaber, Vice President Research at CCS Insight said in a note.

Market Performance

The stellar performance from the tech giants has pushed their stocks higher in pre-market. 

“The ‘gang of four,’ Alphabet, Amazon, Apple and Facebook all hit match-winning home runs with the release of their Q2 earnings in after-hours trading. Of the four, only Alphabet suffered a sales drop, and even that was less than expected. The other three showed impressive gains and blew forecasts out of the water,” Jeffrey Halley, Senior Market Analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA wrote in an email to clients on Thursday. 

Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid in his morning note, ‘Early Morning Reid’ said the four tech companies represent about 16% of the S&P 500 and over a third of the Nasdaq 100. 

“Apple (+6% after-market trading) reported quarterly revenues ahead of analysts’ estimates as iPhone and laptop demand surged, causing revenues to come in 11% higher than a year earlier,” he wrote.

“Facebook (+6% after-market trading) saw Q2 sales beat even the most bullish analyst’s estimate, with revenues rising 11%. Amazon (+5% after-market trading) beat on profits even after increasing costs substantially through the pandemic. Q2 revenues were up 40% from the same quarter last year, which offset over $4bn in incremental covid-1 related costs. Lastly, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, had falling revenues for the first time as companies lowered ad-spend during the pandemic.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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