CEOs from some of the world’s biggest technology companies spent some time over the summer appearing virtually before a House of Representatives subcommittee to answer questions about potentially anti-competitive practices. It’s not unusual for large tech companies to find themselves under the microscope of U.S. and European officials, but there appears to be increasing concern among lawmakers that technology companies are getting too big.
Which is why some investors may want to be on the lookout for tech stocks that aren’t getting subpoenaed before lawmakers. There is a handful of great companies that could come out on top if big tech takes a few blows from the government, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Shopify (NYSE:SHOP), and Square (NYSE:SQ) make the list. Here’s why.
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Microsoft: cloud computing — and much more
Danny Vena (Microsoft): The federal government has been investigating a number of big tech companies for more than a year now, and the antitrust drumbeat is reaching a fever pitch. There are plenty of fish in the sea, however, giving investors plenty of compelling options. One such alternative is a big tech company that has avoided the current antitrust spotlight — Microsoft.
When it comes to cloud computing, there’s no question that Amazon is the name to beat. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the undisputed leader in the category it pioneered. However, the e-commerce giant no longer has the field all to itself.
Microsoft Azure has been nipping at Amazon’s heels for some time and by most accounts has been growing faster than its industry-leading competitor. For the three months ended Jun. 30, 2020, Azure grew 47% year over year during the quarter, while AWS grew just 29%.
In fact, Microsoft revealed that for the first time, its commercial cloud revenue surpassed $50 billion during the previous 12 months, while at the same time, AWS reported $40 billion in net sales. Neither company provides a detailed breakdown of what makes up their respective cloud segments, so it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does show that Azure is working to narrow the lead held by AWS.
There are plenty of other reasons to like Microsoft.
Even in the face of the pandemic and a dramatic downshift in business spending, Microsoft was still able to generate solid growth. For its fiscal fourth quarter (ended June 30), revenue climbed 13% year over year, while net income jumped 15%. Each of the company’s major business segments contributed to the increase. Productivity and business processes increased 6% year over year, while intelligent cloud computing was up 17%. More personal computing, up 14%, helped drive the increase, with strong performances from surprising quarters. Surface revenue jumped 28%, and Xbox content and services soared 65%.
This helps illustrate the diversity of Microsoft’s business. Not only that, but the ecosystem formed by cloud computing, subscription business software, and its cutting-edge artificial intelligence is second to none, giving Microsoft a strong foundation upon which to drive the company’s future growth.
Shopify: a different approach to e-commerce
Brian Withers (Shopify): Amazon has come under the scrutiny of antitrust regulators because it actively competes against its independent sellers on its platform. There’s evidence that points to the e-commerce giant developing and selling products under its Amazon Basics brand, undercutting its sellers on price and prioritizing its own products in search results. The company has denied all of these allegations, but impacted sellers have been vocal about the company’s suspicious moves. One stock that could benefit from antitrust moves on Amazon’s business is Shopify.
In a number of ways, Shopify is very different from Amazon’s e-commerce segment. Amazon has grown significantly by relentlessly improving the consumer online-shopping experience, but Shopify has a different approach.
Amazon is the primary brand consumers see
Shopify’s brand isn’t visible to shoppers
How it makes money from e-commerce
First-party product sales and commissions and fees for third-party fulfillment
Subscriptions to its e-commerce operating system and a cut of sales
Competes with its sellers
Its platform enables merchants to run e-commerce stores, and the Shopify brand stays in the background as it looks for ways to make the merchant more successful. Shopify even has a significant portion of its revenue tied to merchant sales, so when the merchant makes a sale, Shopify benefits. This merchant-centric approach has paid off.
Shopify now serves over 1,000,000 merchants in 175 countries. As with many other e-commerce operators during the coronavirus, it had its best quarter ever. Its merchants powered record platform sales of $30.1 billion, and the company marked its highest-ever quarterly revenue of $714 million, a 97% year-over-year increase. The success of its merchants has propelled the platform to achieve the second-highest online market share based on U.S. sales for 2019.
But Shopify isn’t done yet. Its smart fulfillment network that helps merchants scale-up shipments in a cost-effective way is posting record volumes, and the platform is implementing buy-now-pay-later options for merchants to sell products even as consumers may be struggling economically. If Amazon becomes distracted by fighting antitrust allegations or even has to separate its first-party sales into a separate marketplace, look for Shopify to gain even more ground with its merchant-friendly platform.
You don’t need big tech for digital payments
Chris Neiger (Square): Over the summer, the European Union targeted Apple in new antitrust investigations for several reasons, one of which is the use of the company’s Apple Pay mobile payment service. The EU thinks that the way Apple Pay is used in apps, on websites, and through digital payments in general gives it an unfair advantage over its rivals.
Whether or not Apple has to make any changes to Apple Pay as a result of the EU’s investigation remains to be seen. The good thing for investors is that there’s a fantastic alternative to Apple Pay: Square. Square’s point-of-sale terminals, online payment services, and popular peer-to-peer payment (P2P) app, Cash, have helped the company excel in the digital-payments market.
Square is coming off of an excellent second quarter in which revenue jumped 64% to $1.9 billion, and gross payment volume from online channels increased by more than 50% year over year. Additionally, revenue from Square’s Cash app spiked 140% in the quarter to $325 million.
Square’s growth in this market shouldn’t be overlooked by investors, considering that e-commerce is accelerating the use of digital payments, and P2P payments are an increasingly popular way for people to exchange money. This year in the U.S., digital payments will be a $910 billion market, and it’s estimated to reach $1.5 trillion by 2024.
With Square already a key player in this market, and antitrust investigations threatening larger players like Apple, investors should give Square serious consideration when looking for a strong digital-payments player.