The FANG stocks have now all delivered their December quarter earnings reports, and so have Apple (AAPL) and Microsoft (MSFT) . And as the reports have arrived, the Nasdaq has continued trekking higher.
Looking at the reports delivered by tech giants overall, here are some of the things that stood out to me.
1. Online Advertising and Cloud Infrastructure Spending Remain Strong
Alphabet/Google (GOOGL) and Facebook (FB) , referred to at times as an online ad duopoly, both comfortably beat their revenue estimates for Q4, a seasonally big quarter for ad sales. Google reported that ad revenue from its own sites and apps grew 22% annually to $27 billion, and that ad revenue from third-party sites and apps grew 13% to $5.6 billion. Facebook's ad revenue rose 30% to $16.6 billion.
Spending on public cloud infrastructure and developer platforms also continued growing at a brisk pace. Amazon Web Services (AWS), the 800-pound gorilla of the space, saw its revenue rise 45% to $7.43 billion (higher than expected). Microsoft, the market's clear #2 player, reported its Azure cloud revenue rose 76% (as usual, no dollar figure was given) and Alphabet reported the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) more than doubled the number of $1 million-plus transactions it closed in 2018.
The secular trends that are leading online/mobile advertising to keep growing its share of global ad spend, and which are leading public clouds to claim a larger and larger portion of global IT spend, still look very solid.
2. Data Center Investments Are Still Growing Rapidly
Though Intel (INTC) , Western Digital (WDC) , Micron (MU) and others have signaled that spending by cloud giants on chips and IT hardware has entered a digestion period following strong growth in prior quarters, the cloud giants still appear to be investing quite a lot in building the data centers that house their hardware.
Facebook reiterated guidance for 2019 capital spending of $18 billion to $20 billion -- that's up from 2018 capex of $13.9 billion, which itself is more than twice the company's 2017 capex. Alphabet's "purchases of property and equipment" rose 64% in Q4 to $7.1 billion, and (with the help of some major real estate purchases) 91% in 2018 to $25.1 billion. The company forecasts capex will continue growing in 2019, albeit at a "meaningfully" slower rate and with a greater portion of capex going towards data centers relative to servers.
Amazon.com's (AMZN) purchases of property and equipment via capital leases (driven by AWS) rose 33% in Q4 to $3.7 billion, a much faster growth rate than was seen in the prior two quarters, and the company signaled on it earnings call that its broader investment pace would accelerate this year. Microsoft's capex, though less than planned, rose by $600 million annually to $3.9 billion, and the company expects it to rise sequentially in the March quarter.
Chip and hardware suppliers, many of which have forecast that cloud demand will pick up in the second half of 2019, have to be pleased to see all this spending, even if they don't directly benefit from much of it in the near-term. It's only a matter of time before the data centers that the cloud giants are building get eventually get filled with servers, storage and networking gear.
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3. Business Is Good in Many Places Outside of China
While Apple's "Greater China" revenue (blamed in large part for the company's sales warning), fell 27% in the December quarter, its revenue growth in other regions ranged from negative 5% to positive 5%. Revenue rose moderately in the company's Americas and "Rest of Asia-Pac" regions, as services, wearables and iPad growth helped offset iPhone pressures, and it fell moderately in Europe and Japan.
Meanwhile, Google, Facebook and Netflix (NFLX) , none of which are able to provide their core services in China, all continue seeing healthy top-line growth, including in many foreign markets. In spite of forex pressures in some markets, Alphabet's international reporting segments saw revenue growth that ranged from 16% to 29%, and Facebook's international segments grew between 24% and 34%. Netflix's international revenue rose 36%, and the company both added 7.3 million paid international streaming subscribers and forecast it would add another 7.3 million in Q1.
Amazon, which gets only a small percentage of its international revenue from China, did (in spite of beating Q4 estimates) issue a light Q1 sales outlook and note that new Indian e-commerce rules that have led it to pull many items from its Indian marketplace have caused uncertainty. However, on the whole, tech giants that don't have major Chinese exposure still aren't doing badly overseas.
4. Scale Keeps Producing More Scale
Amid worries about declining usage for its core service in developed markets, Facebook reported its daily active users (DAUs) for its core service and Messenger rose sequentially in both North America and Europe, and that total DAUs rose 9% annually to 1.52 billion. The company also said it estimates about 2.7 billion people now use at least one of core Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp each month.
Apple shared that its active iPhone installed base was above 900 million at the end of 2018, and (in spite of recent iPhone sales pressures) that the base grew by almost 75 million last year. Google disclosed YouTube now has nearly 2 billion monthly logged-in users, up from 1.8 billion as of last May. Netflix topped Q4 subscriber estimates and (amid a U.S. price hike) forecast it would end Q1 with 148.2 million paid subs globally.
And as indicated earlier, AWS ended 2018 on a near-$30 billion revenue run rate. It wouldn't be surprising to see the run rate above $40 billion in a year's time.
It can be boring to reiterate, but the scale advantages that major tech platforms have created -- they range from network effects, to the building of powerful brands, to the creation of large software and services ecosystems, to advantages in user data and the ability to justify massive R&D, content and/or capital investments to support the businesses -- makes it very hard to derail their momentum for an extended period of time. At least provided that the management teams responsible for the platforms keep executing well.