What iPhones and online shopping reveal about the economy
Earnings reports yesterday from Apple and Amazon covered some very different businesses: premium-priced smartphones and tablets versus the world’s “everything store” and a dominant cloud computing platform.
But the tech giants provided a snapshot of the state of the global economy: Consumers and companies are cutting back on some costs, but refusing to stop spending on increasingly essential services.
A tale of two businesses at Apple. The company’s sales slumped for another quarter, even as profit went up slightly compared with a year ago, to $19.88 billion. Much of the revenue decline was caused by a drop in iPhone sales, which comprise half of Apple’s overall revenue. (Sales of iPads fared far worse, with tablet revenue down 20 percent.)
But revenue from services — including Apple Music, Apple TV+ and App Store sales — grew 8 percent, reaching a record $21 billion. It’s a sign that even as customers stop buying pricey new handsets as regularly as they did in the past, they’re committed to smaller-ticket subscriptions and purchases that add up to big money (and carry an astonishing 70 percent gross margin).
Apple also showed growth in key international markets. Sales rose 8 percent in China, the company’s third-biggest market, despite severe economic headwinds there. In India, the company set a record for iPhone sales.
Cost cuts helped power big gains at Amazon. The e-commerce giant handily beat Wall Street’s expectations, as net income of 65 cents per share nearly doubled forecasts. The company enjoyed a surge in its core online retail business, showing that customers are still spending despite headwinds like rising interest rates.
But just as important was how Amazon boosted those results through extensive cost-cutting efforts, including tens of thousands of layoffs and shutting unprofitable divisions. (A slowdown in inflation also helped cut transportation costs.)
The big question is whether other companies’ efforts to shed their own costs will erode Amazon’s other big business, cloud computing: Its AWS division reported 12 percent growth for the quarter, mirroring what Microsoft reported for its competing offering. “Every company in the world is trying to save as much money as they can,” Andy Jassy, Amazon’s C.E.O., told analysts.
What investors think: Shares of Apple are down 1.8 percent in premarket trading, while those in Amazon are up nearly 9 percent.
In other earnings news: Warner Bros. Discovery narrowed its quarterly loss year on year, to $1.24 billion, and lost more streaming customers than analysts had forecast. (The huge success of “Barbie” at the box office will be reflected next quarter.)
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Economists are watching for signs of a cooling labor market. Jobs numbers for July are due out at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, and forecasters expect a gain of 200,000 — the smallest increase in 31 months. Fed officials will study the report for signs of cooling wage growth ahead of their rate-setting meeting in September. (Company executives have said recently they’ve slowed down hiring and been worried about rising labor costs.)
Donald Trump pleads not guilty to the latest charges against him. The former president appeared in a Washington courtroom to face accusations that he sought to subvert the 2020 election results. But Trump remained defiant, calling the charges “political persecution,” and there’s little sign his growing legal troubles are hurting his standing among G.O.P. voters.
Saudi Arabia extends oil production cuts. The kingdom said it would limit output by one million barrels a day for another month, through September, as China’s tepid economic recovery keeps a lid on global crude prices. The price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose following the Saudi announcement.
KKR is said to be in advanced talks to buy Simon & Schuster. The investment giant is poised to pay $1.65 billion if a deal is reached, according to The Wall Street Journal. Still, the bid for the publishing giant is lower than the $2.2 billion that its rival, Penguin Random House, had offered in a transaction that was blocked by a federal judge last year.
A clash over an N.B.A. team’s donation to DeSantis
It’s no secret that N.B.A. team owners are often big political donors, with most of their money historically going to Republicans. But the revelation this week that the Orlando Magic — the team, not the conservative DeVos family that owns it — gave $50,000 to a super PAC supporting Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida raised eyebrows.
The fact that the players’ union issued a sharp rebuke of the move underscored how politics, wealth and pro sports can become uncomfortably intertwined.
It appears to be the first time that a team has directly supported a group allied with a presidential candidate. A spokesman for the Magic said that the donation, which was dated May 19, was made before DeSantis officially announced his candidacy, but it was already clear that he would run.
In its statement, the N.B.A. Players Association called the move “alarming given recent comments and policies of its beneficiary.”
DeSantis’s platform clashes with the stated positions of a number of N.B.A. players. The Republican governor has risen to prominence with so-called anti-woke policies, and has pushed for strict bans on abortions and efforts to tighten voting regulations — both of which run counter to player initiatives and public statements.
DeSantis also introduced new state standards for the teaching of African American history, which critics say play down the brutality of slavery. (That move was announced after the Magic’s donation.) Larry Nance Jr., a player for the New Orleans Pelicans, noted that the Magic have “a majority Black roster, a Black head coach and a Black G.M.”
The league is in a bind. Under Adam Silver, its commissioner, the N.B.A. has mostly welcomed players’ political activism, including on Black Lives Matter and on laws discriminating against L.G.B.T.Q. people. But it is overseen by a board of governors that is largely made up of owners.
For now, the N.B.A. is staying neutral: “Team governors make their own decisions on the political contributions they make and we respect the right of members of the N.B.A. family to express their political views,” a spokesman told The Times.
But the players’ union said that while owners were free to express political opinions, “if contributions are made on behalf of an entire team, using money earned through the labor of its employees, it is incumbent upon the team governors to consider the diverse values and perspectives of staff and players.”
The chipmaker in the middle of a geopolitical fight
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company sits at the center of the technological cold war between the U.S. and China: It dominates production of the world’s most advanced chips from its base in Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own and has threatened to invade.
TSMC’s top executives acknowledged to The Times that while the company commands a crucial position in the global tech supply chain, it is still subject to a geopolitical battle beyond their control.
TSMC is a $500 billion juggernaut that makes chips for everything from iPhones to supercomputers to cars to fighter jets. That has given it both market dominance and global political importance. U.S. export controls have made it harder for Chinese companies to gain access to the most advanced semiconductors, and Washington is weighing new restrictions on chips for artificial intelligence.
“We control all the choke points,” Morris Chang, the company’s founder, said, referring to Western powers and its chip-making allies, including the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. He played down Beijing’s chances for semiconductor supremacy: “China can’t really do anything if we want to choke them,” he added.
TSMC has already cut off supplies to Chinese customers, including in 2020 the telecom giant Huawei, its second-biggest customer at the time. Mark Liu, TSMC’s chief, said that it had no choice: “It’s understandable, but support or not, we have no say.”
But TSMC is still moored to Taiwan. Western countries have courted the company to build plants outside the island, but its experience with its $40 billion project in Arizona — which has suffered from delays, high costs and managerial challenges — has hammered home that its power is strongly tied to Taiwan. “We cannot put it anyplace else,” Liu said.
The TSMC chief rejected the idea of a “silicon shield,” whereby the company’s manufacturing expertise would deter a Chinese invasion or guarantee U.S. support for Taiwan. “China will not invade Taiwan because of semiconductors. China will not not invade Taiwan because of semiconductors,” he said. “It is really up to the U.S. and China: How do they maintain the status quo, which both sides want?”
“This year has really marked the end of an era.”
— Marc Rowan, the C.E.O. of Apollo, the investment giant. On his firm’s earnings call yesterday, Rowan told analysts that lower growth and high interest rates had ended a boom time for the private equity industry. Separately, Tiger Global has built a big stake in Apollo, as the hedge fund looks to diversify beyond its typical tech investments.
The buyback boom is tailing off
For over a decade, companies believed that the surest way to bolster their stock price was to buy back their shares, rather than invest in more plants or research and development. Shareholders rejoiced — but politicians assailed the practice as shortsighted and benefiting only investors and executives.
The corporate thinking about buybacks appears to be changing, according to Bloomberg:
With tightening credit muting share repurchases, and the siren song of artificial intelligence blaring everywhere, outlays for investment on plants and technology have blossomed. The median company pushed up capital expenditures by 15 percent in [the second quarter], with three-quarters announcing programs that topped analyst estimates in July, data from Bank of America Corp. shows.
By contrast, buybacks among corporate clients have been tracking below seasonal trends since May. More broadly, net repurchases plunged 36 percent from a year ago among S.&P. 500 firms that announced financial results. And the reluctance is also on display via planned buybacks, which according to Birinyi Associates have fallen 15 percent year-to-date.
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