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What's Wrong with Facebook, Amazon and Google?

Growth concerns cast a cloud of uncertainty and doubt over Big Tech's profitability.
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It's a black spring for tech giants. 

For several weeks now, billions of dollars of market capitalization have been disappearing on a daily basis as investors' nervousness grows. 

One unwelcome word, number, or warning can send tech stocks tumbling in record time with so many uncertainties about the economy. Investors seem to be watching for any sign that would confirm their fears that the economy is overheating and that a recession is on the horizon.

One of these signals came on May 23 from the social network Snap Inc  (SNAP) - Get Snap Inc. Class A Report. The firm warned that revenue and adjusted Ebitda would come in below the low end of its guidance.

“Since we issued guidance on April 21, 2022, the macroeconomic environment has deteriorated further and faster than anticipated," causing companies to pull back on ad spending as they reevaluate priorities in a weakening economy, the San Francisco-based company explained.

Snap chief financial officer Derek Andersen noted that the “operating environment could be even more challenging going forward. More specifically, the headwinds that impacted our business in Q1 have persisted into Q2, and we believe the impact of the war on Ukraine has been significant, and this impact is particularly difficult to predict going forward.”

The Future of Digital Ads Is Cloudy

Snap shares plunged in the wake of the comments. Since January, Snap stock has lost 72% of its value. Market capitalization has collapsed from $76.15 billion on December 31 to $21.7 billion currently. In total, nearly $55 billion worth of market cap has been wiped out in just over five months.

Snap had previously told investors that ad sales would fall by as much as 25%, even as it forecast solid user growth. It cited surging inflation, supply chain snarls and Russia's war on Ukraine for the forecast.

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Beyond the platform, Snap's profit warning rubs off on the entire tech sector, and more particularly on companies for which online advertising is key to profitability.

"Snap’s downbeat outlook dragged all social media and advertising stocks lower as it appears to be clear that most companies will not avoid the troubling macro backdrop," said Oanda's analyst Edward Moya.

Shares of the Big Three of online advertising -- Alphabet (Google)  (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Report, Meta Platforms (Facebook)  (FB) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Report and Amazon  (AMZN) - Get Inc. Report-- were hit hard.  

Alphabet shares, number of online advertising in market share with Google and Youtube, lost 5.60% to $2,108.33. Since January, the Mountain View, Calif.-based group's stock has fallen 27.1%. Market capitalization has fallen some $540 billion.

Facebook, criticized for using its users' data to send them targeted ads, saw its stock drop 8.41% to $179.61. Since January, the stock has dropped 46.6%, while its market capitalization is currently at $486.43 billion compared to $921.9 billion on December 31.

Amazon, whose advertising activity is growing rapidly due to a large user database built up during the pandemic, saw its stock fall by 3.24% to $2,081. The e-commerce giant's stock is down 37.6% since January, while nearly $640 billion in market cap has melted away.

Among smaller names, shares of Pinterest  (PINS) - Get Pinterest Inc. Class A Report fell 21.71% to $17.68. The stock has fallen 51.4% since January. The market capitalization of the image-sharing social media site stands at $11.73 billion, down from $23.88 billion on December 31.

Investors are convinced that the slowing economy will cause advertisers to reduce their marketing budget. A reduction in promotional spending will undoubtedly impact the profitability of Alphabet and Facebook, which rely heavily on advertising. 

This would also come at a time when the platforms are already anticipating lost revenues because of the in-app tracking blocked by Apple  (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report device users.