Techs moves one way, the rest of Wall Street the other.
It was another humdinger quarter for the big US techs, but for the rest of the US corporate world it was not so good. Was this a coincidence?
For the oil companies, the latest quarter was a struggle. At Exxon Mobil, the latest profits were the lowest since 1999. While Chevron saw its third quarterly loss on the trot, its worst performance in 27 years. This is not a problem specific to the US corporates, of course, Royal Dutch Shell and BP had poor results too.
So far then, we are seeing the fall in the oil price, and continued lack of demand, hitting the oil giants.
But for US corporates in general, times are tough. It looks as if the latest quarter will see results decline, just like they did in the four previous quarters.
It doesn’t seem to matter what business the company affected is in. For example, at McDonalds the results were worse than expected, falling food costs at a time when labour costs, partly because of increases in the minimum wage, are going up, got the blame.
For the S&P 500, so far this earnings season, earnings are down by an average of 3.3%.
The problem isn’t specific to the US; worldwide results are just not as good as was expected.
Yet take a look at tech, and it was a remarkable quarter, especially for Facebook, Alphabet and Amazon.
As is so often the case, the performance of techs seems unrelated to the performance of everyone else.
Look at the economy, and you can see some explanation for the disappointing results, according to data released last week, the second quarter was not so good for the US economy growing at an annualised pace of just 1.2 per cent.
But the surveys suggest that the US economy is set to pick-up nicely, and in any case the first estimate of US GDP, which is all we have for the second quarter at the moment, is notoriously inaccurate and may well be revised upwards.
Is it possible that there is a link between the techs and the rest of the corporate world?
Take the poor performance of the oil companies. There are multiple reasons for the fall in the oil price, but new technologies boosting supply and creating alternatives to oil are among them.
The great thing about the performance of Alphabet and Facebook is that the two companies seem to be expanding the overall size of the online advertising business. The advertising mediums these companies supply are so cost effective, that companies are spending more on advertising. But it is clear that the rest of the publishing business has been hit hard as traditional advertising models are disrupted.
Technology may or may not affecting corporate profits, but it surely will. Last September, McKinsey released a report predicting that corporate profits are set to fall, as new technologies lower barriers to entry and create more competition. McKinsey stated: “The world’s biggest corporations have been riding a three-decade wave of profit growth, market expansion, and declining costs. Yet this unprecedented run may be coming to an end.” It projects that “the global corporate-profit pool, which currently stands at almost 10% of world GDP, could shrink to less than 8% by 2025—undoing in a single decade nearly all of the corporate gains achieved relative to the world economy during the past 30 years.”
This may be a problem for big corporates, but for everyone else, including entrepreneurs, this may be a good thing. For one thing, McKinsey is forecasting a rise in wages to GDP which may be precisely what the global economy needs. For another thing, falling barriers to entry as tech creates new opportunities for smaller companies is, of course, good news for those who think they can take on the status quo with innovative new ideas.
Maybe that is why we are seeing a sharp rise in entrepreneurial activity worldwide, with more accelerators and incubator schemes, for example.
So maybe it is all related and the fall in earnings is part of this trend.
And to consider an example, look at Just-Eat.