All of the last year’s fear of anti-trust regulation seem to be coming true. Tech shares dropped yesterday on news that top US regulators had divvied up jurisdiction of tech giants for a forthcoming probe. The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission, the agencies in charge of anti-trust, have decided who will manage what as they prepare to launch an anti-trust probe into Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple. It is still unclear exactly what will be investigated, as well as the scope of the probe. After the market closed, the US House of Representatives also announced its own investigation. The tumble in shares sent Google into a bear market.
FINSUM: This has been looming for some time, but now looks like a reality. This could be the start of some very serious volatility and changes for the FANGs.
We ran a piece yesterday highlighting the risk of China using rare earth elements as a bargaining chip in the trade war. The US currently gets 80% of its rare earths from China, and the elements are used in everything from smartphones, glass, electric vehicles, and jet engines. The biggest loser if China blocks access could be Apple. The company is currently planning a ramp up in production for its new fall products, so according to Goldman Sachs “even a short term action affecting production could have longer term consequences for the company.”
FINSUM: It is hard to calculate the financial impact at this point, but we expect it could be significant given that these elements are key to smartphone production.
The next phase of the US-China trade war is coming, and it looks like it may be even worse. At the beginning both sides focused on levying higher tariffs on more goods, then Trump took the step of limiting China’s access to semiconductors with his ban on Huawei. Now the next phase may be much more specific and potentially damaging for the US—China is likely to limit the US’ access to rare earths used to make all kinds of technology devices. Access to such rare earth elements is one of the biggest US weaknesses in tech and Beijing has the power to block access because the US imports 80% of its rare earths from China.
FINSUM: It is hard to tell how bad this could be. On the one hand, the total US imports of Chinese rare earths are only $160m, but on the other, if there is not another easy source then it could hamstring the businesses that use them.
The FANGs have gotten a lot of market pressure lately, both in the form of sell-offs, but also from analysts, who say tech companies will be among the worst hit by tariffs. However, one fund, Light Street Capital, which has made great returns betting on new technology companies, thinks Netflix has a lot of room to run. They reason they like Netflix is that the company has intentionally made its product very cheap in order to grow its subscriber base. They think there is a lot of room for Netflix to raise prices without alienating customers. Consumers have gotten used to paying $100 a month for cable, but are currently only paying $9-$12 per month for Netflix.
FINSUM: Netflix has a lot of room to expand margins. Think about the effect to earnings if it raised prices to a still very tolerable $14.99 per month.
Investors probably won’t see it coming, but big losses are likely on the way for FANG stocks. The bank says that the group of companies is about to be “smacked down” by regulators. Savita Subramanian, Head of US equity strategy at BAML, says that the risk for investors is heavily skewed to the downside. “These companies are about to be smacked down from a regulatory perspective … Look at the fact that Mark Zuckerberg was testifying before Congress a year ago. That’s exactly what all the financial CEOs were doing 10 years ago”. Subramanian likens the coming losses to what happened to financial stocks in 2008-2009.
FINSUM: We doubt any forthcoming losses will be Financial Crisis-like but the regulatory risk is surely a big one. Will new regulations be related to anti-trust or data protection? Or both?
One of the trade war’s big victims could be Apple. While much of the trade war panic has been focused on other products, Apple could be the biggest victim to suffer. The the reason why may have more to do with sentiment than with tariffs. While there is much talk of Chinese “national champions”, Apple is undoubtedly an American national champion in China, and with sentiment souring against the US in the face of the trade war, it is likely that Chinese consumers will move towards purchasing domestic smart phones. Apple will be forced to raise prices because of tariffs, which would accelerate the trade. China accounts for about 18% of Apple’s revenue and a higher percentage of its profits.
FINSUM: There could be a big hit to Apple’s top and bottom lines here. China could also take measures to specifically wound Apple the way Washington has done to Huawei. Anything seems to be fair game right now.