Even in our age of tech billionaires, Elon Musk’s potential pay packet from Tesla is eyecatching. If the Californian carmaker’s average market value stays above $100bn (£76bn) for six months, he will be eligible for stock options worth $350m. It breached the $100bn barrier last week, so the clock is ticking. If Musk can pump the manufacturer to a $650bn valuation, his reward could reach $50bn. That is not a typo: a five followed by 10 zeros.
So Musk doesn’t lack for motivation. This week will offer the first test of that new $100bn valuation, when Tesla joins Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft in a barrage of US tech companies reporting earnings for the last three months of 2019. If Wall Street analysts are to be believed, records will be sent tumbling by the tech giants’ numbers.
Online broker AJ Bell points out that Apple shares have more than doubled in the past year, boosting its market capitalisation by $692bn – a sum that exceeds the combined market value of every stock in the flagship S&P 500 index bar those four top tech firms. The last three months of the year are traditionally strong for Apple, and average estimates suggest that revenues of $88bn and profits of $24bn will test records when it reports earnings on Tuesday.
It’s chilling: this cohort of trillion-dollar firms [Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft] are basically unstoppable.
Alex DeGroote, analyst
Jeff Bezos may be somewhat distracted by Saudi Arabia’s alleged hacking of his personal phone, but on Thursday Amazon is also pegged to post record quarterly revenues – of $86bn even if profits fall, according to consensus figures collected by S&P Global Market Intelligence. It is much the same story at Microsoft, one of Amazon’s main rivals in cloud computing: revenues and profits within a whisker.
Even Facebook – or FACEBOOK after its strange rebrand – is expected to post record profits, and revenues above $20bn for the first time. Mark Zuckerberg’s company may be gearing up for another US presidential election year after 12 months of intense political pressure – over tax, privacy and the hijacking of its platform by foreign powers – but investors are sitting on a gain of 67% since the start of 2019.
Investors and billionaire founders have made their massive rewards by dominating or even monopolising sectors which not only have a relatively low cost of expansion, but on which everybody else has to operate – also known as platform capitalism.
Sceptics would say the inclusion of Tesla in this “tech” bracket is misleading. Carmakers traditionally compete on manufacturing efficiencies, and a two-tonne lump of metal does not lend itself easily to the kind of platform businesses the others run. Nonetheless, the soaring share price suggests that investors think Tesla can achieve the unassailable scale the likes of Amazon and Apple have.
“It’s chilling,” says analyst Alex DeGroote, “but we have this cohort of trillion-dollar firms [Apple, Google’s owner Alphabet and Microsoft] that are basically unstoppable.”
There are always risks for any of these companies – 2020 has so far offered apocalyptic visions of global war and viral contagion, and the world economy is overdue a recession. But investors across the world are all for the platform capitalists continuing to add zeros to their bank balances – at least until politicians come good with their threats of serious regulation.