What a jolly week! I do so love it when it gets dark at 5pm. Europe’s creeping back into lockdown. The FTSE 100 is off about 4.5% – as are global stock markets collectively. And even my ability to secretly shovel the children’s Haribo stash after sending them to bed on 31st has been removed. BAH.
A pretty consistent financial light this year has been the mega tech firms. Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google reported yesterday, confirming not only immunity to coronavirus but also the ability to thrive amidst a pandemic and senatorial spankings. According to today’s FT, the after-tax profits of the four big tech companies for Q3 jumped by 31 per cent from this time last year, to $39bn. Not bad for three months’ work.
Google and Facebook thrive
Google and Facebook have the most buoyant share prices today. Google’s revenues for the three months from July to September were up by 14% from this time a year ago – to $46 billion. Yowzers. Facebook also registered a stronger-than-expected advertising rebound, with revenue up 22%. And the world spent $96 billion on Amazon in three months. We were quite literally inside and online.
There is of course a slightly sinister underbelly to these financial success stories. Arguably, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google have been more successful than any cocaine cartel, alcohol firm or tobacco giant in creating a global army of digital addicts, craving their next dopamine hit and being mercilessly bullied, manipulated and engineered in a sea of likes, pings, emojis and other tricks of the trade. I think every parent I know can attest for the impact of lockdown on their children’s whinging pleas for ‘screeeeeen tiiiiiiiiime’.
If you haven’t yet watched Neftflix’s documentary ‘The Social Dilemma’ I can’t recommend it enough for a fairly gob-smacking revelation of how we are manipulated by the Silicon Valley Giants. Little wonder that advertising revenues are booming and, as you’d expect, regulators and policy makers are about 100 steps behind. A line from the documentary is etched into my brain, spoken by a former tech firm employee – “Just remember, if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.”
There’s much speculation on what might happen if the Democrats win next week’s election in the US. But so far, politicians seem unable to dent the march of the Big Four. This week Google was hit by the biggest U.S. antitrust case in a generation, when the Department of Justice alleged the company was using monopoly power in the web search market to freeze out competition. The reaction on the stock market? Unphased – and Google’s share price climbed 1.4% that day. Go figure!
But this is 2020 so everything is breaking ‘the rules’….
All eyes remain on Europe’s second wave and of course the US elections, with potential unrest and volatility ahead. The run-up to a US election is usually a positive contributor to stock markets. If we go back to 1944, the S&P 500 has risen an average of 2.5% in the final eight calendar days before a presidential election. But this isn’t any old year, nothing’s behaving as expected and it’s hard to paint a particularly rosy picture of the economic outlook over the next 12 months. I don’t claim to know what the future holds, but I have a higher % in cash in my ISAs than I’ve ever had. This – of course – always brings a fear of missing out. But for those who are likely to need some cash ahead – maybe those in drawdown/taking a pension, people planning on buying a property, or those with job insecurity, for example – it’s always good to make sure you’re not a forced seller when markets tumble.
On the other hand, if you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s, and saving regularly into an ISA or pension “just because” – and it’s long-term stuff and you have your cash buffer – there’s little point in changing course and you may as well just plough on regardless. For those wondering, most financial planners will suggest a suitable cash buffer is ideally about 3–6 months’ salary.
Have a good weekend everyone. Despite my growing irritation with the Big Four, I have one last contribution to make to Amazon’s Q4 profits. In my next move in the ongoing screen time battle with my kids, I am going to buy a safe and quite literally lock my kids’ devices in it! Kapow! Take that! #evilcackle #digitalwitchmum :0)
P.S. Thanks to all of our readers who helped us and left reviews of their online investment/pension provider. Our winner – chosen at random – was a Mr M.Payne who gets a £100 John Lewis voucher to spend on lockdown boredom alleviation! Thanks all for your help – if anyone feels like helping us and leaving a review with only the promise of the warm glow of being nice as a reward –