Apple and Facebook have been added to Microsoft, Alphabet/Google and Amazon – the results are all in, and they are impressive, all-round, but the story is only just beginning.
If you sign-up to the narrative of accelerating technology, then you no doubt believe in the idea that technology companies are set to become even more important than they are at the moment.
Then again, considering that Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook are the five biggest companies in the world – by market cap and in that order – then they are already quite important.
The story of latest results at Microsoft, Alphabet/Google and Amazon has already been told here.
The news from Facebook is that it now has 1.94 billion users – which is quite a lot. Profits came in at $3 billion – bear in mind that when the company was floated, at one point on day one, it was valued at $104 billion. The company is now making annual profits that account for around 12 per cent of that valuation – its PE ratio, based on earnings four years or so after IPO, was around 8. It seems that Facebook was a bargain, and for all the talk of hype, investors at IPO were being savvy.
As for Apple, iPhone sales fell a tad, down to 50.8 million from 51.2 million, but that is largely because users are waiting for the next product, for which they are expecting great things.
Revenue was up 4.6 per cent to $52.9 billion, profits hit $10.5 billion – not bad huh, 20 per cent of revenue – and its cash mountain now stands at around $250 billion.
Investors are hoping that with President Trump's planned corporate tax reforms, the company will bring the money back home, but acquisitions are more likely than bumper dividends, and with that cash pile, there aren’t many companies Apple cannot afford to pay for in straight cash.
Shares in Apple are around 80 per cent up over the last five years, but have risen roughly 30-fold since 2004.
Facebook shares have tripled since IPO in 2012.
But what next?
Don’t let the news that Facebook has taken on 3,000 people to do what algorithms can’t do, and check content, fool you. Algorithms will be able to do it soon enough.
For both companies, the future may well be in either virtual or augmented reality. Oculus Rift has got off to a slow start – but give it time, as technology advances, the Facebook subsidiary will become a key part of the business. As for Apple, wireless earphones are a sign of things to come – voices in our ears, and screens mounted in glasses or contact lenses may well surpass smart-phones within a few years.
Apple may or may not become big in autonomous cars, but it will remain big, even when the day comes that the iPhone loses its magic. As for Facebook, people may change the way they interact over the internet, but virtual and augmented reality means they will interact even more than ever.
And all that without mentioning AI.
The five biggest techs occupy position numbers one, two, three, four and five in the list of the world’s biggest companies, they will, however, all be shunted one place down when Aramco, the state-owned Saudi oil company is floated, but the techs will regain the top five slots again – because tech is set to become ever more pervasive, while the age of oil, thanks in part to renewables, and thanks in part to climate change, is set to come to an end.