Back in the last century, people in the U.S. made do with three television networks for information, ABC, CBS and NBC. Those companies' dominance of attention led to dominance of the advertising world.
Something similar is going on with today's tech and the generation it serves, creating a bond between consumers and giant brands that shows no sign of stopping. Adding power is the rise in the standard of living of billions outside the developed world.
The big techs, Alphabet (GOOGL - Get Report) , Amazon (AMZN - Get Report) , Facebook (FB - Get Report) , and Apple (AAPL - Get Report) , in particular, maintain a spectacular hold on spending by consumers and institutions, a grip that has only grown stronger even as more and more choice is offered by the Internet in general.
The stream of earnings reports over the past several days showed the staying power of the sales machines these companies have built, with their results for revenue generally exceeding expectations and offering still high rates of growth despite the firms' maturity.
And though two of the four, Amazon and Alphabet, were weaker following results, there was still plenty for bulls on all four stocks to cheer about.
The main takeaway was that the franchises of these companies - ads, in the case of Alphabet's Google and Facebook, retail sales and logistics, and cloud computing, for Amazon, and electronics and content for Apple - are holding up very well.
Consider the following capsule summary of results over the past several days.
Alphabet Monday reported fourth-quarter revenue that topped analysts' expectations, and said more ad dollars are shifting to YouTube video ads. (Alphabet does not provide quarterly financial forecasts.) Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson wrote Tuesday that despite missing profit expectations, what matters is that the revenue performance was "solid," and that the company continues to benefit from shifts in ad dollars from old media. He raised his Alphabet target to $1,355 from $1,250. Shares are down fractionally today.
Amazon last Thursday topped Wall Street's Q4 revenue expectations, but forecast lower-than-expected Q1 revenue, by several billion. Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Graham said a lower rate of revenue growth, perhaps 20% per annum, may be a "new normal" for Amazon. He kept his Buy rating and $2,250 price target on the stock. Amazon stock fell 4% the following day but were recovering this week.
Facebook on Wednesday beat fourth-quarter revenue expectations, but explicitly warned that its revenue growth rate this quarter will slow, to about 24% from 30% in the prior quarter, and said growth will be slower for the whole year. A large part of that is because the company is now more reliant on its Instagram photo-sharing property, which brings ad rates that are lower. Prices for ads across its business fell by 2% in the quarter, but the number of ads sold rose by 34%. The stock from surged a whopping 16% the next day as price targets rose at many analyst shops. Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju said lower prices mean ads sold this year may increase in speed.
Apple was a bit different from the other three, having pre-announced a disappointing Q4 revenue number back on January 2nd. But when it also forecast lower Q1 revenue last Tuesday, shares nevertheless rose almost 4% the next day, a relief rally this column suggested might take place. Price targets were cut at several shops the next day, but there was some relief among bulls that the focus on Apple is shifting from how many iPhones it will sell (it no longer discloses that metric) to how high its gross profit is for its services business (63%, Apple disclosed, well above the company average.) Morgan Stanley's Katy Huberty cut estimates but said the 19% growth in Apple's services business outside the U.S. is compelling.
All the good feeling reflects at least two factors. As has been the case for many years, money is shifting from traditional venues of advertising and content revenue, including television and recorded media, to digital. Operations such as YouTube still have only a fraction of the world's spending on media and advertising, leaving them years to rake in the revenue.
Second, and perhaps more important, per capita net income has been rising sharply for many years in the developing world. China's national adjusted per capita net income roughly quintupled between 2010 and 2016, according to data from The World Bank. In India, it roughly doubled in that time. Similar data can be found for many countries, with the global "lower middle-income" bracket more than doubling in that time.
As the developing world become consumers both internally, and for external, imported goods, they are the next billions of people that the FAANG crowd are pitching too. Their impact, mostly positive, will be felt by FAANG, and the world, for decades to come.