Despite a brutal selloff so far this year in the tech sector, Wall Street analysts remain cautiously optimistic about Big Tech stocks ahead of upcoming second-quarter earnings this week, with the majority of experts predicting that companies like Apple, Microsoft and Alphabet can continue to post strong profits in the long run.
Though tech stocks have been hard-hit this year (with the Nasdaq down 25%) amid surging inflation, rising interest rates and ongoing recession fears, a majority of Wall Street analysts still maintain buy ratings on Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft and Amazon ahead of key earnings results this week.
Three firms reiterated buy ratings on several big names Monday: Deutsche Bank predicted solid results from Apple, Bank of America expects Facebook parent Meta to see ad revenue take a smaller hit than expected and Oppenheimer predicts “robust” growth in Amazon’s AWS cloud services business.
Analysts note that while the tech sector is already slowing down, hiring across the board amid the more challenging economic environment, after a big selloff earlier this year, valuations are now looking much more attractive.
Netflix and Tesla saw their stocks rally last week after “better than feared” results, while Snap delivered “another train wreck quarter that highlights a digital ad slowdown, Apple iOS privacy headwinds and TikTok competition further heating up,” according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.
While there’s been some “good and bad news” in the tech sector, “there are some encouraging signs” and investors can now buy shares in some of the biggest companies at a more attractive entry point, says Lindsey Bell, chief markets and money strategist for Ally.
Among the more than 250 combined analysts covering the five Big Tech companies reporting earnings this week—Apple, Alphabet, Meta, Microsoft and Amazon—fewer than five have sell ratings—a sign of just how bullish Wall Street is on some of America’s most valuable tech companies.
Alphabet and Microsoft kick off Big Tech earnings on Tuesday. Meta reports Wednesday, Apple and Amazon on Thursday. “Investors should be selective when picking stocks within the tech sector,” says David Trainer, CEO of New Constructs. “The strongest types of stocks are the ones where cash flows are strong and valuations underestimate the company’s ability to generate cash flows in the future.”
He especially likes Google parent Alphabet, which is trading at a “much cheaper” valuation than its peers and should continue to outperform, thanks to its ability to keep innovating. Trainer is “not as confident” about Facebook parent Meta, however, questioning the company’s “ability to sustain profits,” especially as it struggles to retain users amid increased competition from the likes of TikTok. His firm also remains bullish and “big fans” of Apple, though the stock is still somewhat expensive, he adds.
All of the Big Tech stocks have seen big losses so far this year, though they have recovered somewhat in recent months. Meta has suffered the greatest losses, with its market value falling by roughly half as Facebook’s ad business continues to struggle. Amazon and Alphabet are both down roughly 25%, Microsoft more than 20% and Apple 15%.
Critics by Alex Webb
In a single two-and-a-half-hour stretch on Jan. 25, Microsoft Corp. stock erased $156 billion of its shareholders’ money, then rebounded, recovering all of its losses and adding $74 billion. In one sense this was just another lurch in the markets’ wild ride in 2022, as investors adjust to recovering economies and the prospect of rising interest rates. But it also points to a new environment in which the most valuable U.S. tech companies are going to have to work harder to justify their trillion-dollar or near-trillion-dollar valuations.
The Big Tech companies are still doing well. The day after Microsoft’s earnings, Apple reported a quarterly performance that wildly exceeded expectations. On Feb. 1, Alphabet also beat analysts’ projections. Share prices for both companies spiked—but remain below their peaks. The way Microsoft’s white-knuckle afternoon played out is particularly illustrative of the shifting environment: At 4 p.m. New York time, it released quarterly financial results.
They exceeded analysts’ expectations, except for one crucial number: Growth slowed slightly at its lucrative Azure cloud computing business. Investors panicked, sending shares down as much as 6.8% in aftermarket trading. Shortly after 6 p.m., Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood told analysts that cloud computing growth would accelerate again in the next fiscal quarter. The stock jumped, erasing the earlier losses.
Short-term stock gyrations have limited predictive power. But the activity around Microsoft’s earnings highlighted how negatively investors are now inclined to react to slowing growth at key units, even if revenue and earnings beat expectations.
A standard way to look at how excited investors are about a particular company is to compare its share price with its expected earnings. In January 2017 the stocks of the five most valuable tech companies—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—traded in line with the S&P 500 as a whole, at 19 times their predicted earnings. By September 2020 that multiple for the Big Tech companies was 42, while the market as a whole traded at a 27 multiple.
Investors were rewarded. Apple shareholders enjoyed an average 43% annual return over the past five years if they reinvested all their dividends back into the stock. Microsoft, Amazon, and Google generated average returns of 38%, 28%, and 26%, respectively. Even Facebook’s relatively modest 18% outperformed the S&P 500’s average of 16%.
The lockdowns helped widen the gap between tech and everyone else, according to Kasper Elmgreen, the head of equities at Amundi SA. “The economy gets turned off, so we had an historic economic contraction that hit [vehicular] traffic, leisure, industrials, construction, financial services, and so forth hardest,” he says.
That could be changing. The Covid-19 omicron wave is receding in many places, and businesses that suffered during the pandemic could benefit more than tech companies from a renewed recovery. This could send investors looking to increase their stakes in companies they’ve spurned for the past two years while they focused on the tech giants.
“The whole case for investing in these companies and inflating their premiums was the fact that growth was scarce and they had the strongest growth prospects in the S&P 500,” says Gina Martin Adams, the chief equity strategist for Bloomberg Intelligence in New York. “As economic conditions improve, that premium will naturally deflate.”
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