Look, I don’t know. Maybe tech will rebound on Wednesday and manage to close green, but the first couple of hours were a continuation of Tuesday’s bloodbath and what I would say to anyone who thinks this is somehow surprising is that maybe common sense took a backseat to “FOMO” sometime in 2017.
And when I say “common sense”, I don’t necessarily mean that folks were willing to overlook valuations and fundamentals in some of these “story” stocks because they were eager to invest in the ongoing evolution of technology and thereby the continued advancement of humankind. Rather, I mean that the “story” itself is more than a little absurd to the extent it assumed there wouldn’t be stumbling blocks along the way.
Technology has a habit of running out ahead of regulation and eventually, the chickens come home to roost on that. It’s never clear what the catalyst will be, but it always happens. For Facebook, the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the straw that broke the camel’s back, colliding as it did with an exceptionally polarized political environment. The shares have seemingly stabilized following the announcement of an update to privacy “tools”, but it goes without saying that this is far from over.
For Tesla, the turmoil comes amid further scrutiny on the safety of the company’s Autopilot system. The stock is down another 7% on Wednesday and the bonds are collapsing following the Moody’s downgrade.
For Amazon on Wednesday, the problem is Trump. According to sources who spoke to Axios, he’s “obsessed” with the company and wants to “go after it”. Although he’d pitch that effort as something that’s designed to help “everyday” small business owners avoid falling into the Bezos black hole, his motivation is first and foremost tied to his personal vendetta against “the AmazonWashingtonPost” (as he calls it when he’s ranting on Twitter) and secondarily related to complaints from rich people. Here’s Axios:
Trump’s wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him – and he agrees – that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Never mind the fact that, as Axios goes on to note, multiple people have tried to explain to him that his take on the company isn’t entirely accurate. Again, he’s not concerned with that. He’s concerned with his grudge against WaPo and to see that, all you have to do is take a look at his Amazon Twitter history:
As we’re always fond of reminding readers, perhaps the most hilarious thing about those is that if you look back at 5+ years of Trump’s Amazon tweets, you’ll discover that he’s actually a big Bezos fan — as long as Bezos is selling Trump’s book, which is “a great gift idea that’s easy to order on Amazon”.
In any event, the Trump drama is killing the stock on Wednesday:
“Shares are sinking after an earlier Axios report suggested that President Trump may not like the company, yet we already know this based on numerous tweets on the topic by the president,” Stifel writes, in a note that suggests investors should use this as a buying opportunity.
Buying opportunity or not, the important point there is the bit about “we already know this.” It’s been clear since he became President that Trump was likely to try and “clip Bezos’ wings” (as Axios puts it) and the more negative WaPo coverage Trump gets, the more angry he becomes.
We also “already know” that there are potential problems with Tesla’s autopilot and that Facebook and other social media platforms were likely hijacked by global bad actors in the service of promoting a populist agenda in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and France (among other locales). Because we knew that, we should have known that it was just a matter of time before this or that “new” bombshell finally lit a fire under regulators’ asses.
And see this gets me back to the point made here at the outset. It was (and is) ridiculous to assume that we’re going to simply transition seamlessly to a world where Jeff Bezos serves your healthcare needs, provides you with retail banking services, gets you a mortgage, sells you drugs covered by the health insurance he also sold you, and delivers those drugs to your home that he owns the mortgage on via a drone that was activated by his female alter ego “who” now giggles at you for no reason.
In the same vein, it was always absurd to think that Facebook and Twitter were going to continue to operate unfettered as the preferred medium of (un)civil discourse once it became abundantly clear that those platforms were being used (in some cases by bots operating at the apparent behest of foreign intelligence services) to manipulate the public.
Along the same lines (because I needed a way to say “in the same vein” again, only using different words to avoid poor form), it was never likely that all of the sudden, cars were going to start driving themselves overnight without accidentally killing a few people and thus effectively forcing the government to step in.
None of this is to say that these companies are going to go the way of Pets..com or that they won’t otherwise be the companies that shape the future of the world. It’s just to say that the present always comes before the future and the present is likely to be dominated by regulatory scrutiny and government intervention.
So to all you Marty McFlys out there, keep that in mind before you go basing today’s asset allocation decisions on a one-liner like “these companies are shaping tomorrow.”