I can remember working in Tokyo when the grounds of the Japanese Imperial Palace had an implied valuation greater than the entire state of California. Fun times and fantasy didn’t last. Sadly, only Hollywood can deliver entertaining sequels for decades. Financial markets are thrilling investors right now but I’m beginning to wonder whether we are entering fantasy territory? Let’s revisit Japan and California again.
The combined value of just three Californian companies – Apple, Alphabet(Google) and Facebook – plus Microsoft, up the road in Seattle, currently exceed the value of the entire $4.7 trillion Japanese economy. We didn’t even need to include the $1.5 trillion Amazon in that calculation but bear with us. Here are a few other fantastic data points driving current markets.
• These same five companies have delivered 35% returns to investors year-to-date. The next 495 biggest stocks have declined by 5% in the same period.
• The FAANG stocks – Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Google and Netflix – recently hit a new 22% high as a percentage of the value of the overall S&P 500 index.
• The Wall Street Journal reported this week that 78% of the S&P 500 returns over the past 5 years came from the technology and e-commerce sectors.
• Tesla is not even included in the S&P 500 because, up until this week’s quarterly results, it had failed to make profits for four consecutive quarters….ever. At its recent $300 billion valuation Tesla is the tenth biggest company in the world by value. That’s $100 billion more than Toyota which sold 10.6 million cars in 2019. I kept the ‘0.6’ in that figure because Tesla didn’t even reach that mark and probably won’t this year either.
Clearly, this concentration of euphoria in such a small number of stocks causes some unease and resonates with veterans of the TMT fantasy party of 1999. Perhaps we have seen this movie before or this is the original ‘FAANTAM Menace’ like its Star Wars contemporary which had its first release, ironically enough, in 1999 too.
The FAANTAM stocks – Facebook, Alphabet, Apple, Netflix, Tesla, Amazon and Microsoft – are my own $7 trillion(!) creation but I’m struggling to see how any sequel could thrill investors to the same extent. Right now investors are enjoying the possibilities of these companies dominating their respective global markets for years to come. They could be right but do not be too surprised to see potentially darker sequels. Here are two potential contenders for an eventual trilogy:
Inflation Strikes Back: Yes, some inflation is a good thing. But too much inflation and things go horribly wrong quickly. Why? Equity markets might look a little stretched but debt markets are incredibly vulnerable if interest rates rise to counter inflation. The IIF estimates total global debt will reach $257 trillion in 2020 as central banks and governments reflate a pandemic crippled economy. Global equity markets, for perspective, are valued at around $90 trillion.
Revenge of The Dragon: China is being battered on the political front at the moment. UK moves on Huawei, Australian C19 fury, US consulate closures, Indian military skirmishes and Hong Kong protests are pushing China further into an isolated corner. The back lash from China could be very painful given their critical positioning in global trade. All the FAANTAM valuations assume singular global trade and technology platforms. Clearly, a world divided into two different trade and technology ecosystems is not a friendly one for equity valuations.
Unlike Hollywood, there will be no great appetite to view those sequels.