It’s mid-December, which means it’s time for the staff prognosticators at Bloomberg Technology to sheepishly revisit last year’s predictions while peering ahead with a brash certainty that we haven’t earned.
On its surface, 2019 was the difficult year that most of us anticipated. The simmering trade tensions (perhaps diffused by the new phase-one trade agreement) raised the prospect of constrained opportunities for U.S. tech companies in China.
Fears of intrusive government regulation, antitrust scrutiny and a consumer privacy backlash hung like a San Francisco fog over the major tech firms.
And there was a lot of turnover in the C-suite: a record 181 tech chiefs left their posts through October, which doesn’t even include the departure of Google co-founder Larry Page from his operational role at Alphabet Inc.
Yet, anyone who predicted this would stop or even slow the expansion of Big Tech, or the advancement of technology even deeper into our lives, was wrong. Just like 2018, it was a banner year for tech. Alphabet stock is up 29% this year, Microsoft 52% and Apple Inc. 74%. They’re all beating the S&P 500 index, which is up 26%, and the year saw a slate of tech IPOs—a record haul, despite the poor market performance of unicorns like Uber Technologies Inc. and Slack Technologies Inc. and the debacle at WeWork.
By my measure, the year was defined by several breakthroughs:
AirPods took off. Critics can no longer claim that Apple under Tim Cook hasn’t minted a mainstream hit, after the success of the Apple Watch and now these awkward ear accessories. The company is expected to sell 60 million units, double last year’s tally, and retailers are having a hard time keeping them in stock. One new research report said the AirPod’s popularity has surpassed the iPod’s at its peak. It’s a remarkable shift in fashion and culture—we’re now a species with no compunction about sporting white dongles from the sides of our heads. Amazon.com Inc., Google and others have introduced their own versions, with limited success so far.
Three iconic products from Apple have made it to the Time magazine’s most significant 10 gadgets’ of the decade list. These are: Apple iPad (2010), Apple Watch (2015) and AirPods (2016).
Voice-activated speakers continue to boom. This year, 78 million people in the U.S. used a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, up about 18% from last year, according to estimates from EMarketer. That’s almost a quarter of the American population and comes despite the troubling revelations that companies farm out a small percentage of customer queries to human workers. Do people care about Silicon Valley snooping on their most intimate conversations? Some do, but apparently most are either confident in the noble intentions of tech companies or comfortable with sacrificing a bit of privacy for the privilege of asking a computer to play the latest hit tunes and recite the weather.
It was the year of TikTok. Maybe I’m biased by having kids who walk around practicing a medley of dances they learned on the app, but the Bytedance Inc.-owned video service is suddenly everywhere and putting a scare into Facebook and Snap Inc. The service has 680 million users, crossed a million downloads in February and then 1.5 billion in November, according to SensorTower. Irony isn’t dead, after all: At the very height of Sino-U.S. tensions, teenagers around the world, in unison, flocked to an internet service operated and owned by a Chinese company.
So what’s on tap for 2020?
This year, I’m going to stay positive. 5G will reinvigorate the growth of smartphone sales; Samsung Electronics Co. and Lenovo Group Ltd.’s Motorola will finally make foldable phones work; streaming services will push further into sports and live news, striking another blow to terrestrial cable and satellite TV; new products will invigorate a market for home robotics, and a distracted Trump administration in an election year will fail to mount any credible attack on the tech giants.
Those are my bets. But don’t hold me to them.
Tech Companies Report Record Earnings, See $200 Billion Added To Market Cap
A day after their CEO’s spent five-and-a-half-hour-long testifying at a congressional hearing on anticompetitive practices, four of the largest tech companies in the world grew even larger after each reported strong earnings in the second quarter.
Yesterday alone, Apple, Amazon, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Facebook added about $200 billion to their cumulative market cap after they announced earnings. This shows just how dominant each business is. Combined the companies are now valued at more than $5 trillion.
Apple reported more than $11 billion in earnings despite shutting down most of their retail stores during the pandemic. On the earnings call the tech company reported strong demand for the smaller, lower-cost iPhone 11. It also reported a surge in sales for the iPad and Mac products.
“Mac and iPad, these are productivity tools that people are using to stay engaged with their work or stay engaged with their schoolwork,” Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said during the call. “And we believe we’re going to have a strong back-to-school season sitting here today, it certainly looks like that.”
The company also surprised analysts during the call by announcing a 4-for-1 stock split. Investors who currently have shares will receive three additional shares for every one they own. The share price is also adjusted down to roughly 25% of the current price, helping to make shares more affordable.
Tens of millions of Americans stuck at home during the shelter-at-home restrictions. With this, Amazon was perhaps the biggest winner and reported a record net income last quarter. On the earnings call, Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said that online grocery sales had tripled in the quarter and video streaming had doubled from a year ago. The company also saw an increase in its cloud computing business.
Alphabet reported earnings and net income in line with expectations. However, it announced the tech company’s first-ever drop in revenue for display ads on Google.
“The macroeconomic environment costs by the pandemic created headwinds for our business,” Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said on the call, but said that indications in the third quarter are a stabilization in users and expectations are for revenue to return as well. “This was true across most of our advertising verticals and geographies. Of course, the economic climate remains fragile.”
Facebook, though, had the biggest after-hours jump in its stock price after it beat Wall Street expectations by topping $5 billion in quarterly profit. Also, Facebook said that its traffic grew during the pandemic, with more people at home online, but that the average price per ad declined due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
“Facebook has been a lifeline of economic activity,” said Chief Financial Officer David Wehner on the earnings call. Also, the company announced $5 billion in quarterly profit.
It said that with more people at home all day due to the pandemic site traffic grew, but like Alphabet, saw a decrease in the average price per ad due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.
7 Risks For Tesla Investors As Stock Price Soars
Tesla, led by celebrity-CEO Elon Musk, has seen its share price climb from $361 on March 18 to an eye-watering high of $1,546 on July 15.
Along the way, the company has been forced to shut down its factory. Musk has threatened to move the factory out of California. The prices of some of its models have been slashed due to a lack of demand. Also, deliveries last quarter were well below projections (but above Musk’s walked-back estimate).
And yet, the share price climbed 328%., making Tesla the most valuable car maker on the planet.
That has at least one longtime observer saying the stock is in a bubble and it will burst soon.
Mark Hulbert, a regular columnist for MarketWatch and the founder of the Hulbert Digest, said in a recent article, “Tesla is a bubble that is going to pop.”
Hulbert points out a study by three Harvard researchers that the more a stock has gained over the recent past, the greater the odds of a crash. With Tesla outpacing the S&P 500 by 324 percentage points over the last two years. Based on the Harvard study (which stopped calculations at 150 basis points) there’s a greater than 80% chance that Tesla’s stock will drop by at least 40% in the next two years.
But those aren’t the only headwinds facing Tesla right now.
Michael Brush, publisher of the Brush Up On Stocks newsletter, says there are seven risks for investors in Tesla right now.
Risk #1: The stock price has gotten too far ahead of fundamentals
Tesla trades at 7.8x forward 12-month revenue, says Todd Lowenstein, an equity strategist at The Private Bank at Union Bank. Compare that to around 0.2 or less for General Motors and Ford, who produce millions of more cars than Tesla every year.
“Tesla strikes me as more speculation than investing at these prices,” says Lowenstein, “It’s pricing in not only massive market-share gains and flawless execution, but world domination.”
Robert Bacarella, who manages the Monetta Fund, added “The stock is not trading on a multiple of today’s or tomorrow’s earnings. It is trading on a multiple of Elon Musk’s dreams.”
Risk #2: Tesla raises more money
With the share price in the stratosphere, it’s widely expected that Elon will raise more capital to shore up the balance sheet. Depending on how much money he chooses to raise, and at what price, current shareholders could be heavily diluted.
Risk #3: The Electric Vehicle market is in a bubble
“We are in a hot market right now,” says Shawn Kim, a research analyst at Gabelli Funds. Kim also thinks several of these companies are just speculative bets. “There is a bit of exuberance in the sector.” If the EV bubble pops, Tesla goes right along with it.
Risk #4: Tesla needs to execute flawlessly
Tesla is forever running around putting out fires. The Chinese factory was reportedly shut down for a while because it ran out of parts to build cars. Additionally, owners have reported missing parts of mismatched parts after taking delivery. But it might be Musk’s promise of “Level 5” autonomous driving that might knock the company down.
“Autonomous driving is one of the toughest problems in artificial intelligence,” cautions Kim. “Maybe Musk is not that close, because it is such a difficult problem.”
Risk #5: S&P 500 inclusion is priced in. What if they don’t get added?
A lot of investors have piled into Tesla thinking it will get a boost if it gets added to the S&P 500 as index funds will have to add it. The idea has been discussed so much it is probably priced into the stock, says Kim.
Risk #6: The overall market feels ‘toppy’
If the tides change and suddenly the market starts dropping, “frothy” stocks like Tesla will get hit hard.
Risk #7: Musk’s hubris
Musk recently announced that Tesla would sell “red satin short-shorts with gold trim” to mock the short-sellers betting against the stock. That’s typically not a good idea and shows too much hubris.
‘Dumb Money’ Pushing Tech Stocks Higher, But That Could End Soon
Tech stocks have been the unequivocal winner in the stock market rally since the late-March lows. While the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average have both climbed 43% off their lows, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index has surged 53% from its lows.
However, two seemingly innocuous events in the last few days may indicate that the bull market has petered out. With this, we are due for a large correction in the index.
The First Event
The first event occurred on Monday. The Nasdaq climbed roughly 2% it managed to set a new intraday record high. However, the index then fell to more than 4%, closing the day with a 2.1% loss.
According to analysts at Bespoke Investment Group, the index setting an intraday record high and then closing at a loss is rare. Their research shows it has only occurred twice prior to Monday: January 24 and March 7, 2000.
“And although the Nasdaq was up the following day both times, you don’t need us to remind you what happened over the long-term from there,” the Bespoke analysts wrote in a recent report, alluding to the significant market correction from March through May of 2000.
Jason Goepfert, head of SentimentTrader and founder of independent investment research firm Sundial Capital Research, says that isn’t the only odd occurrence in the markets right now.
The Second Event
He points out the second event, which is the measure of volatility for Nasdaq, the Cboe Nasdaq Volatility Index, or VXN, is climbing alongside the Nasdaq-100. The Nasdaq-100 consists of the 100 biggest members of the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite.
The volatility gauges, like VXN, measure expectations for coming volatility and typically rise as the underlying index falls. Goepfert says the two moving higher in tandem has never occurred before.
Additionally, the VXN is trading higher than the volatility index for the S&P 500, the VIX. According to Bespoke Investment Group chief strategist Julian Emanuel, the VXN is trading at 37.61, a bit higher than the S&P 500’s volatility index, the VIX, which is trading at 29.52.
“As questions mount about whether the surge in VXN in recent weeks, uncharacteristic in a rising NDX tape, is indicative of a ‘blowoff’ or a ‘blowup’ or both we note that such ‘fast and furious’ shifts between VXN and VIX have tended to correspond to NDX absolute and relative underperformance, especially on a 3-month time frame,” Emanuel and analyst Michael Chu wrote in a recent note.
While not rare, there is another indication that the markets may be due for a correction. This indication is the level of confidence investors have right now. Retail investors, known as the “dumb money” are nearing their highest level of confidence since June 8. There are instances when the “dumb money” reaches an emotional extreme, either confidence or despair. When it happens, it’s generally a good indication that things will quickly swing back in the other direction.
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