Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Great technology has overtaken this planet

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My colleagues and I have written a lot about the unreal sales, profits and oomph of America’s five technology titans — Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook. This might feel like old news. Tech’s Titanic 5 have been big and rich for a long time, and they’ve gotten even more so as people and organizations have needed their products during the coronavirus pandemic. Yadda, yadda, yadda. We get it. But no, we really don’t get it. American’s technology superstars have launched into a completely different stratosphere than even other wildly successful companies in tech and beyond.

Let me give you a flavor of the bonkers-ness: Google’s $50 billion in revenue from selling advertisements from April to June was about what Americans — all of the Americans — spent on gasoline and gas station purchases last month.

Amazon’s stock price increases have made Jeff Bezos so rich that he could buy a new model iPhone for 200 million people — and he would still be a billionaire. The annual revenue of one of Microsoft’s side businesses, LinkedIn, is nearly four times that of Zoom Video Communications, a star of the pandemic, in the past year.

Apple’s profit just from the past three months ($21.7 billion) was nearly double the combined annual profits of the five largest U.S. airlines in prepandemic 2019. The current stock market value of the Big Five ($9.3 trillion) is more than the value of the next 27 most valuable U.S. companies put together, including corporate giants like Tesla, Walmart and JPMorgan Chase, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence.

I know that lots of odd things are happening in the U.S. economy right now. But I cannot adequately explain how not normal these numbers are from the tech superpowers. Maybe that’s why Bezos wanted to touch outer space; the Big 5 tech giants have outgrown Earth. Facebook expects to dole out more cash outfitting its computer hubs and offices in 2021 than Exxon spends around the world to dig oil and gas out of the ground in a year.

I have been befuddled that Amazon and Apple have shown higher profit margins than those companies have had for years — possibly ever. That has happened even though the pandemic has forced those companies to reorganize factories or warehouses, deal with disrupted global shipping, scramble for parts in short supply and spend a fortune to keep their workers safe. What’s clear more than ever is that America’s tech titans have formed a separate universe in which they are the sun, and everyone else — billions of humans, other companies, entire countries and governments — are mere planets that revolve around them. Perhaps even more surprising than the size and scale of these companies is how they have mostly grown more profitable in what could or should have been economic conditions that hurt their profits.

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