Even a week of outsize performance from the tech sector couldn’t spare the stock market from a queasy drop.
Last week’s highs and lows are easy, though not simple, to map out.
The stage was set for a thrilling comeback of several technology giants, with surprisingly good results reported following a rather lackluster or, at best, uneven performance.
Previous concerns about flagging iPhone sales vanished, as Apple reported $91.8 billion in revenue, driven by the popularity of its iPhone 11 and 11 Pro over the holidays and bolstered by devices like the Apple Watch.
Apple’s wearables business grew 44 percent and has now grown into “the size of a Fortune 150 company,” said chief executive officer Tim Cook. And for the first time, the category nabbed $10 billion. The company also drew $12.7 billion in revenue from services covering iCloud, Apple Music and newer subscriptions for Apple Arcade and Apple TV+.
Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives described “these results and guidance as a ‘blowout’ print that will put more high-octane fuel in the bull thesis looking ahead,” with “pent-up demand within the installed base which is now over 1.5 billion devices worldwide.” Katy Huberty of Morgan Stanley sees the iPhone’s resurgence and double-digit growth in services and wearables as signs that Apple has its mojo back.
Last year’s spending to shrink Prime delivery times and expand its workforce may have hurt Amazon’s wallet, but it turned out to be a prelude to the company’s massive fourth quarter. The e-commerce giant landed record holiday sales driving $87.4 billion in revenues, for a gain of 21 percent over the previous quarter, and a little over $3 billion in profit.
The company’s cloud services business, Amazon Web Services, buttoned up a 34 percent gain, and Prime membership boasted swelling ranks, thanks to 32 percent growth, making it 150-million strong now. The gains were made all the more impressive by a dismal year for the retail sector, in general.
The latter, driven primarily by its cloud business, posted a profit of $11.6 billion on revenue of $36.9 billion, marking gains of 38 percent and 14 percent, respectively, over the year-ago quarter. Earnings per share of $1.51 delivered 40 percent growth, compared to the year prior.
The news pushed up Amazon’s stock, casting the operation as a trillion-dollar company alongside the likes of Apple and Microsoft.
Amazon doesn’t appear to be done yet. As WWD reported, the company is preparing to launch a luxury shopping platform sometime this year.
For now, it appears Amazon usurped Google’s place in the four comma club, as “Silicon Valley’s” Russ Hanneman might have called it. Notably, Google’s parent company Alphabet hasn’t reported earnings yet. It’s scheduled for Monday. And while others like Facebook or even eBay also met or beat expectations, other concerns spoiled the party. The former’s federal probes and penalties, and the latter’s disappointing guidance kept the fanfare in check.
Still, at any other time, tech’s overall performance would have had Wall Street cheering. Instead, it’s hyperventilating, because the results landed during a horrifying time shaped by forces outside of Silicon Valley’s — or anyone else’s — control.
Enter the Coronavirus.
This week saw the escalation of a global health crisis due to the highly contagious virus. Having already outpaced the 2003 SARS plague, the Coronavirus has claimed 213 people in China and sickened thousands more. Diagnosed cases have been coming in from across the globe, sparking an international race for a vaccine and an official declaration from the World Health Organization on Thursday over the global health emergency.
Stocks plummeted on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average heaved and sank more than 600 points, amid fears about the crisis’ economic impact.
Delta and American Airlines halted flights between China and the U.S., with other carriers reportedly cuing up similar moves. And the Trump administration took a break from the drama of the president’s impeachment trial this week to ban travel to the Hubei province, where the outbreak began. Now it’s reportedly considering tightening travel restrictions even further.
Sectors like technology, retail and fashion, among others, hinge on sourcing, manufacturing and other deals in the Asia region, in general, and China, in particular.
While the situation doesn’t necessarily diminish tech’s recent successes, the stock market’s frightened reaction doesn’t bode well for the future. And what that impact will look like probably won’t be clear for at least another few months — or more.