Tumultuous outlook for the technology super stocks

Tumultuous outlook for the technology super stocks

Kyran Fitzgerald

The earnings season has resulted in some dramatic contrasts in fortunes among leaders in the technology sector.

Apple’s results pleasantly surprised the markets and its market value pushed past $1tn (€865bn), a milestone in corporate history.

Yet, at almost the same time, Apple found itself being ranked only the third largest volume seller of smartphones behind Samsung and Huawei.

What this shows is that China’s consumer market is barrelling ahead while Apple consolidates its position at the top of the pricing tree, with sales of is high-end, iPhone X devices selling at over $700.

The BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones put it well when he said Apple had “pulled off the trick of being a luxury and a mass market brand”.

How the gathering storm clouds over international trade affects the smartphone makers remains to be seen.

The Apple results came hot on the heels of far less reassuring news of other high profile tech companies.

Facebook suffered a huge drop, while Twitter’s shares also plummeted on its earnings outlook.

The media has fastened on to the tumultuous period for the group of stocks known as the ‘Faangs’, which include Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google.

Astonishingly, the total combined value of the Faangs stands at around a fifth of US GDP.

Many market watchers, not unreasonably, fear a rerun of 2000-2001 dotcom bust.

Leading the way among the bears is Morgan Stanley’s lead equity analyst, Michael Wilson.

Mr Wilson has predicted that “the biggest (equities) sell-off since February is coming” in which “technology and consumer stocks look set to fare worst”.

This will, in his view, hit the average portfolio hard given that technology and consumer stocks account for between 40% and 45% of the US S&P 500 index.

Mr Wilson suggests that the Nasdaq index could drop by another 15% or by even more, and predicted that

the S&P index could fall 10% before the market finds its level.

Interestingly, one prominent stock market bull, Steve Chiavarone, portfolio manager with Federated Investors, said he was “taking a few chips off the table”.

He is bearish about the short-term prospects in the market while also confident that share prices are set to rebound over the longer run.

In his view, the US mid-term elections could bring volatility and lead to a correction of up to 8% ahead of the poll.

But Mr Chiavarone insists that a strong rebound in the winter could propel the S&P 9% above its current level.

Mr Wilson, however, is part of a growing group of analysts who predict that a long-term shift in funds from growth stocks — the technology sector, in particular — to so-called value stocks is getting underway.

In his view, shares in defensive companies including utilities are set to outperform, while energy, financial and industrial stocks should also recover some of their lustre.

But an interesting discussion is also underway as to which quoted companies can be truly viewed as growth as opposed to value stocks.

One view is that both Apple and Google are best viewed, now, as value stocks.

There is one key message from the latest set of earnings figures and the sharp rise for Apple shares and the slide for Facebook and Twitter.

It is that categorising technology companies for investment purposes into a single acronym, such as the Faangs, is about as meaningful an exercise as assembling a line from a random collection of zoo animals.

In truth, the core challenges that Mark Zuckerberg faces are not the same as those of Apple’s Tim Cook, or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Elon Musk’s Tesla is certainly knocking on the door of promotion to the Big League while simultaneously flirting with financial disaster.

Twitter and Spotify could soon be in the relegation zone as new entrants do to the incumbents what they have done to so many others.

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