Big Tech Has Outgrown This Planet

The gap keeps widening between the super rich tech superstars and the merely super. There’s one possible explanation.,


Continue reading the main story

Supported by

Continue reading the main story

This article is part of the On Tech newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it weekdays.

The already bonkers dollars of Big Tech have become even bonkers-er.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

That chaos and unplanned spending should have made the companies less profitable, not more so. (Apple did spook investors a little by saying this week that it was having trouble getting all the parts it needs for the next few months. Amazon will disclose its financial results later on Thursday.)

What does all this mean? Well, for one thing, members of Congress or state attorneys general might look at the numbers and ask: If, as the Big Tech companies say, they face stiff competition and could die at any moment, how could profit margins keep going up like this?

Logic would suggest that if the companies are fighting off lots of rivals, they might have to cut prices and profit margins would shrink. So how does Facebook turn each dollar of revenue, nearly all from ads it sells, into 43 cents of profit — a level that most companies can only dream of, and higher than Facebook posted before the pandemic?

I’ve asked over and over in this newsletter whether America’s Big 5 tech titans are invincible. As the gap keeps widening between the super rich tech superstars and the merely super, I’m starting to believe that the answer is yes.

Before we go …

Every country wants to regulate Big Tech: Turkey has forced Google to make major changes to its search engine in the country. My colleagues Adam Satariano and Dai Wakabayashi have details, and say that Turkey could provide a preview of more country-by-country government regulation that could become a fixture of the global internet.

A big, possibly odd, day for Robinhood: It’s the first day as a public company for the app that made stock trading as fun and easy as playing Candy Crush. My DealBook colleagues ask: Is Robinhood really worth $30 billion or more?

Here is the most convoluted way to set up home internet equipment. Gizmodo has one man’s tale of a DIY Wi-Fi setup involving plastic bins, bungee cords and a small fan. Don’t try this at home, probably.

Hugs to this

A red monster mascot appeared on the field at a baseball game in Japan, “swallowed” a security guard and spit him back out without his uniform. It’s way less menacing than it sounds.

We want to hear from you. Tell us what you think of this newsletter and what else you’d like us to explore. You can reach us at

If you don’t already get this newsletter in your inbox, please sign up here. You can also read past On Tech columns.

Leave a Reply