First it was the banks reporting horrendous numbers — largely, we were told, because of their exposure to recently-cratered energy companies. Now it’s Big Tech, which is a much harder thing to explain. The FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google) own their niches and not so long ago were expected to generate strong growth pretty much forever. That’s why every large-cap mutual fund and most hedge funds (not to mention a few central banks) owned so much of them.
This year’s first quarter was emphatically not what their fans had in mind. Apple, for instance, reported not just a slowdown but a double-digit year-over-year sales decline:
The tech giant said it saw fiscal second-quarter earnings of $1.90 per diluted share on $50.56 billion in revenue. Wall Street expected Apple to report earnings of about $2 a share on $51.97 billion in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.
That revenue figure was a roughly 13 percent decline against $58.01 billion in the comparable year-ago period — representing the first year-over-year quarterly sales drop since 2003.
Shares in the company fell more than 8 percent in after-hours trading, erasing more than $46 billion in market cap. That after-hours loss is greater than the market cap of 391 of the S&P 500 companies.
Looking ahead to the fiscal third quarter, Apple said it expects revenue between $41 billion and $43 billion — Wall Street had expected $47.42 billion on average, according to StreetAccount.
One area of weakness for Apple in its second-quarter was the Greater China segment — comprising mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Revenue for that region fell 26 percent year-over-year to $12.49 billion. Previously, that area had posted consistent growth for China.
Twitter managed to grow in the first quarter, but its next-quarter revenue projection came in 10% below Wall Street’s consensus:
The social media company reported adjusted first-quarter earnings of 15 cents per share on $594.5 million in revenue. Earnings rose from 7 cents per share in the previous year, while sales climbed 36 percent from $435.9 million in the prior-year period.
Analysts expected Twitter to report earnings of 10 cents per share on $608 million in revenue, according to a consensus estimate from Thomson Reuters.
Shares dropped about 12 percent in after-hours trading Tuesday.
Twitter said it expects second-quarter revenue of $590 million to $610 million, well below analysts’ estimates of $678 million, according to Thomson Reuters. In the company’s conference call, executives downplayed the low estimate, saying it did not reflect sagging interest from advertisers.
The repercussions from tech’s tank are myriad, in part because so many sophisticated investors own so much of this paper. As Zero Hedge just noted:
Then, one month ago after the collapse of the Allergan-Pfizer deal, we showed (one of the reasons) why the hedge fund world continued to underperform the broader market: Allergan was one of the most widely held hedge fund stocks.
And now, following the biggest Apple debacle in years, here is the reason why the hedge fund community is about to see even more redemption requests and underperform the market even more: according to the latest GS hedge fund tracker, at least 163 hedge fund are long the name which has just lost over $40 billion in market cap in the after hours. The good news: it used to be over 200 as recently as a year ago.
Tears won’t be confined to Wall Street however: let’s not forget that none other than the Swiss National Bank is also long some 10.4 million shares of AAPL.
It also won’t be a surprise to find out that the Japanese central bank — a massive buyer of equities which recently began diversifying into other countries’ shares — and the US Plunge Protection Team are on the hook for a few tens of billions here. But stock market squiggles and hedge fund redemptions are a side-show. The big questions are:
1) Can an economy grow when its banks, energy companies and tech giants are all losing ground?
2) Can a hyper-leveraged global financial system survive if its main economies can’t grow?
The answer to both questions is almost certainly “no.” So either something extraordinary (and extraordinarily unlikely) happens to ignite sustainable growth, or the dissolution of the fiat currency/fractional reserve banking/central planning model will begin. Expect developed world governments to do almost literally anything to stop that from happening.