February 5, 2020
The five Big Tech companies — Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — are all getting richer, with three of them (Amazon, Apple and Microsoft) nearing $1 trillion in stock value. Alphabet’s revenue skyrocketed past $161 billion last year, and Facebook is over halfway to a $1 trillion value. This concentration of wealth and power is making it increasingly difficult for smaller companies to compete — with little to indicate that this state of affairs will change. The result is a market of haves and have-nots.
The New York Times reports Wedbush Securities managing director of equity research Daniel Ives noted that, “the strong are getting stronger, and the weak are getting weaker.” “In 20 years covering tech, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” he added. Not only has regulation thus far “done little to hurt the bottom line” of these companies, “last year’s financial results could lend more weight to arguments that a handful of companies, with dominant market shares and outgunned competition, are unfairly cashing in on their control.”
To support this point of view, NYT notes that, “Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook made a combined $55.2 billion in net profit in the most recent quarter” compared to “the next five most valuable tech companies [making] roughly $45.5 billion in their four most recent quarters.” Although Facebook is “lagging behind the rest of the Big Five, it is still worth twice as much as the next most valuable company, Intel.”
Older tech companies are “struggling to adapt to the changing landscape” while startups are “cutting jobs to get their expenses under control.” Meanwhile, the dominant companies are branching into new arenas, “muscling aside or buying out rivals … and they are locking in the industry’s best engineers with paydays smaller companies could never match.”
“Today’s dominant companies have so much power across such a broad array of markets and continue to leverage that power to expand into new markets,” said Sonos chief executive Patrick Spence, whose company is suing Google for allegedly infringing on five of its patents.
The Big Five are putting the lie to Wall Street’s long-held belief that companies that get big find it difficult to come up with “new ways to make money and maintain rapid growth.” In Q4 last year, for example, Alphabet’s profits rose 19 percent from a year earlier, with its “YouTube and cloud computing units … growing faster than the rest of the company.”
Loup Ventures managing partner Gene Munster noted that the big companies are effective at so-called incremental evolution, which makes it “harder than ever for new challengers.” As NYT explains, they’re able to “skillfully move into new markets with lower prices and more money for marketing than their new competitors … [and] in time, they take over.”
The result, according to a study by University of Arizona finance professor Kathleen Kahle and Ohio State University economist René Stulz, is that “in 1975, the top 100 public companies snared about 49 percent of the earnings of all public companies … by 2015, that share had jumped to 84 percent.” “There are a lot of small, unprofitable firms and a handful of large, very profitable ones,” said Kahle.