Tesla CEO Elon Musk certainly knows how to court controversy. But, even by Musk’s extravagant standards, the last few months have been more than usually eventful, culminating in a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) lawsuit, as well as a reported Department of Justice criminal probe that could put his role as head of a publicly traded company into jeopardy.
It all started with a series of ill-advised tweets at the beginning of August, in which Musk hinted at an imminent change in Tesla’s ownership. Statements, including teasers such as ‘Am considering taking Tesla private at $420’ and ‘Funding secured’, saw share prices soar, amid fevered speculation over whether the tweets represented a serious intention or were just, in fact, elaborate ‘weed’ jokes.
At the moment, it’s a war of words with a side order of sabre-rattling. But as tensions between the US and its overseas rivals rise, the President’s crusade to make what he sees as a long-overdue ‘correction’ to the country’s trade deficit is beginning to have unintended consequences in America’s – and his own – heartland.
Since he took office, President Trump has been committed to the idea of righting the wrongs he believes have been perpetrated by trading partners looking to make gains at the expense of US interests. After dabbling with tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, a new set of curbs on steel and aluminum imports was introduced in spring of this year, swiftly followed by import duties designed to target billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports.
But, while China may have borne the brunt of the action, America’s traditional allies certainly haven’t escaped scot-free. Initially exempting Canada, Mexico and the EU from the steel and aluminium tariffs, Washington later confirmed that it would impose the duties across the board – special relationships notwithstanding.
With the release of Amazon’s Q1 earnings, its share price has soared to a record high and the company’s trajectory towards overtaking Apple as the world’s largest company seems assured.
The brainchild of CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon appears to be an unstoppable force. In the first three months of 2018, Amazon more than $550m a day from Amazon.com sales and other ventures, including Whole Foods, the premier grocery chain acquired just last year. There was also strong growth in Amazon Web Services (AWS), which delivered an impressive $1.4 billion in profits – the bulk of Amazon’s profits over the quarter.
Interestingly, these results were achieved, despite President Trump’s determination to make the company pay more tax and higher postal rates – changes that experts believe would have negligible impact on Amazon’s status.
Another bite of the Apple
Could times be a-changing for tech giant Apple? After coming under fire for its tax evasion policies, it seems as if the company could be softening its stance towards corporate tax obligations, as CEO Tim Cook announced in January that Apple would be making a payment of $38 billion to repatriate part of its overseas cash holdings. Cook also committed to spending $30 billion in the US over a five-year period, creating 20,000 jobs and a new campus in the process.
Tech stocks on the rise
US stock markets are surfing new highs as better-than-forecast results from technology giants are boosting gains across the sector. Although stronger economic growth in the US and globally has given rise to increased business confidence across the board, it’s estimated that a quarter of the S&P 500’s record-breaking return this year is down to a handful of over-performing tech stars.
The S&P 500’s gains put the index firmly on track to record its 104th month in a bull market. In fact, the price-to-earnings ratio of the US stock market hasn’t been this high since the dotcom bubble of the 1990s. And while there are no signs of an imminent crash, it’s a scenario that’s making some investors nervous.
You know you’ve had a bad week when two adverse rulings come home to roost – with billion-dollar consequences. So, it’s hard not to feel a little of Google’s pain as it faces down a pair of expensive and potentially damaging international judgements.
A record fine for anti-competitive practices
First up, the European Union’s record $2.7-billion fine for anti-competitive behaviour. This relates to the company’s practice of handling its own shopping search engine – Google Shopping – in a different way from those of its competitors by defaulting it to the top of searches while bumping others down the list. Regulators say that by illegally promoting its own price comparison service in this way, Google has ‘abused its market dominance as a search engine’ and demoted the services of competitors like Kelkoo.