Wednesday, 07 Dec 2022

Will plunging shares end big techs era of pornographic profits?

Will plunging shares end big techs era of pornographic profits?


Will plunging shares end big techs era of pornographic profits?

Last week was a bad time to be a tech billionaire. When the pandemic drove the world online, the founders of Facebook, Google and Microsoft reaped wealth gains described as "pornographic" and cemented their position as among the richest cohort ever to have trod the planet. Well, the "good times" are over. Sort of.

The world's biggest tech companies reported their latest earnings last week and, for most, the news was bad. Meta (formerly Facebook), Alphabet (formerly Google) and Microsoft saw billions wiped off their values as investors began to worry that the best days of the tech titans were behind them. As investors made for the exit, the five biggest tech stocks crashed by a combined $950bn (£820m) at their lowest point. The slide also hit the fortunes of their creators.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's fortune plunged by $11bn on Wednesday after Meta Platforms reported a second straight quarter of disappointing earnings. Shares in the company dropped by a fifth - a sharp depreciation that has brought Zuckerberg's overall decline in wealth this year to more than $87bn. The numbers may be no more than arithmetically diverting - Zuckerberg, 38, is still worth about $38bn, according to Bloomberg - but that is a striking drop on the $142bn he could count on in September 2021. Almost all of his wealth is tied up in Meta stock; he holds more than 350m shares. As of Thursday, Zuckerberg ranked 28th on the Bloomberg list, a 25-place drop from his previous third-place positioning.

Meta's 71% fall in value this year is due to many things, including advert-tracking controls instituted by Apple, a softening in digital ad spending, the challenge to Facebook-owned Instagram by TikTok, and Meta's multibillion-dollar investment in the metaverse - the virtual world it is throwing money at despite a less-than-warm reception, even from its own staff.

That investment has troubled investors. Zuckerberg has said he expects the project to lose "significant" amounts of money over the next three to five years. On Wednesday, he asked for patience.

"I think we're going to resolve each of these things over different periods of time," Zuckerberg said. "And I appreciate the patience, and I think that those who are patient and invest with us will end up being rewarded." Wall Street seems pretty out of patience.

The CNBC TV presenter Jim Cramer, who has been a booster for Meta, looked close to tears after the latest results were released. "I made a mistake here," Cramer told viewers. "I was wrong. I trusted this management team. That was ill-advised. The hubris here is extraordinary and I apologise."

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