Big Tech Is No Longer Carrying the Stock Market

One by one, the concerns that have hung over the stock market have faded.

Fears that the United States economy would dip into a recession this year have eased. The Federal Reserve seems to be finished raising interest rates for the foreseeable future, and optimism has increased that the United States and China could end their trade war.

But if the January snap back (it was the best start to a year for stocks in decades, after the worst December for stocks in an even longer period), is to sustain itself, big technology companies likely will have to lead the way.

So far this year, they have not done that.

For much of the past decade, the fate of the stock market has been tied to the performance of a handful of the largest tech companies: Amazon, Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, Microsoft and Netflix led the market from one record to the next.

By the end of August, their sway over the direction of the S&P 500 exceeded all but two of the index’s 11 sector groupings. As the index pushed to a record high last summer, the rise in those six companies’ shares accounted for half of its gain. They led on the way down too, dragging the broader market lower over the final three months of 2018 and nearly ending the longest bull market on record.

So it’s notable, then, that as the S&P 500 rallied nearly 8 percent in January, the big technology stocks accounted for just 17 percent of the benchmark’s rise, according to data from Howard Silverblatt, senior index analyst for S&P Dow Jones Indices.

What happened?

The companies have faced a fundamental question since late last year: Could they continue to pull in new users and generate more sales in a slowing global economy? Sales growth had begun to slow in the second half of 2018 and earnings updates in January haven’t fully resolved investors’ concerns about their trajectory.

“This is the first quarter in my memory that technology has on the whole had worse metrics than the S&P 500,” said Sameer Samana, senior global market strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, referring to the earnings and revenue growth rate of big technology companies.

After Apple warned of diminishing demand for new iPhones in China earlier this year, its forecast for the current quarter wasn’t as dire as many on Wall Street had feared. The stock has gained 7.7 percent since then. Still, the iPhone maker reported a 15 percent drop in revenue, including a 27 percent decline in China, and its results indicated a difficult road ahead. Its stock remains nearly 30 percent below its peak.

Amazon reported record profits and revenue. But its shares were down 5.4 percent Friday in part because revenue from online shopping slowed and the growth of Prime memberships appeared to have plateaued.

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