Tech Companies’ Profit View Darkens Even as Cost Cuts Spread

The cost-cutting wave sweeping through the technology sector hasn’t gone far enough to improve the outlook for profits in the view of Wall Street amid slowing revenue growth.

(Bloomberg) — The cost-cutting wave sweeping through the technology sector hasn’t gone far enough to improve the outlook for profits in the view of Wall Street amid slowing revenue growth.

Layoffs numbering in the tens of thousands have been announced this year by companies including Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce Inc. The belt-tightening has helped support a rally in the Nasdaq 100 Index, ignited by speculation that the Federal Reserve is near the end of its cycle of higher interest rates. Yet analysts have continued slashing profit estimates for 2023.

Earnings for companies in the S&P 500 Information Technology Index are now expected to contract 0.4%, down from estimates calling for growth of about 4% just six weeks ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.

“The demand side is where the uncertainty is,” said Kim Forrest, chief investment officer at Bokeh Capital Partners. “You can do something about the cost side, but at the end of the day if your customer doesn’t feel like your product is adding value at this time, then you’re going to have a shortfall.”

With results in from more than two-thirds of the S&P 500 Index, about 79% of technology companies have managed to exceed the lowered bar for profit expectations, an improvement from the third quarter’s 74% beat rate, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Revenue performance, however, is lagging behind with beats from only about half of the companies in the sector, compared with 59% in the third quarter. 

Revenue for S&P 500 technology companies is projected to expand about 2% in 2023. That would be the slowest growth for the sector since 2016, Bloomberg Intelligence data show. 

Results this earnings season from the largest technology and internet companies were particularly worrisome. In aggregate, earnings from Apple Inc., Microsoft, Alphabet Inc., and Meta Platforms Inc. missed estimates by an average of about 8%, according to data from Bank of America.

In an example of how cost reductions aren’t offsetting weaker demand, Shopify Inc. late Wednesday gave a weaker-than-expected sales outlook. The Canadian company, which lets merchants set up websites for online commerce, was among the first technology giants to slash its workforce during last year’s market rout.

So far, concerns about growth have done little to dampen enthusiasm among investors who have been snapping up beaten-down stocks. The tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 has jumped 14% this year with stocks like Nvidia Corp. and Atlassian Corp. up more than 40%.

With stocks gaining and profit estimates falling, valuations in the Nasdaq 100 are on the rise again after tumbling in 2022. The benchmark is priced at 24 times profits projected over the next 12 months, compared with an average of about 20 over the past decade.

“It’s a very uncertain year ahead of us,” said Kevin Walkush, portfolio manager at Jensen Investment Management. “Year to date, the strong market gains have been more about hope than about how the year could play out.”

Tech Chart of the Day

The recent surge in technology stocks has propelled many far past the average price target among analysts. Among companies in the Russell 3000 Index with more than 30 analysts’ covering the stock, Roblox Corp. has gone the farthest beyond the average target. Shares of the online video-game platform surged 26% Wednesday after it reported bookings that beat analysts’ estimates. 

Top Tech Stories

  • Microsoft Corp. reported its initial findings after a week of testing new artificial intelligence additions to its Bing search engine with users from more than 169 countries.
  • Tesla Inc. terminated dozens of employees Wednesday at its plant in Buffalo, New York, one day after Autopilot workers at the facility announced a union campaign, organizers said in a complaint.
  • China’s new technology overseer, Minister for Industry and Information Technology Jin Zhuanglong, has outlined a sweeping blueprint to counter escalating US sanctions and decoupling supply chains by developing homegrown expertise in areas such as electric vehicles.
  • A China-based former employee of ASML Holding NV — a critical cog in the global semiconductor industry — stole data from a software system that the corporation uses to store technical information about its machinery.
  • Meta Platforms Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has dubbed 2023 the “year of efficiency,” a signal the social networking company plans to reduce spending and increase speed, but costs are going up in at least one area: his personal security.
  • Renesas Electronics Corp. is considering building up chip production capacity outside Japan to lower the risk of future supply disruptions to automakers and other key customers.
  • Shopify tumbled in after-hours trading after giving a sales outlook for the start of the year that fell short of analysts’ estimates, a sign that it face an uneven recovery from last year’s rout.


–With assistance from Subrat Patnaik and Tom Contiliano.

(Updates at market open.)

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