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Runup in Tech Mega-Caps Sows Doubt Before Key Earnings

Ryan Vlastelica
Runup in Tech Mega-Caps Sows Doubt Before Key Earnings

(Bloomberg) -- Some of Wall Street’s biggest stocks are coming off their best quarterly performance in years, and with the broader economy still grappling with the pandemic, analysts are starting to express some skepticism about high-profile rallies.

The S&P 500 surged 20% in the second quarter, its biggest quarterly gain since 1998. While the superlative nature of the rally was partly a function of timing -- many components hit a bottom right before the end of the first quarter -- the move was fueled by tech and internet stocks, which outperformed the benchmark and have heavy weightings due to their massive market capitalizations.

Apple and Amazon.com both gained more than 40% during the quarter, making it the iPhone maker’s best quarter since 2012 and Amazon’s best since 2010.

On Wednesday, Deutsche Bank confessed it was “surprised at both the speed and magnitude of the rebound” in Apple shares, adding that the move “has us nervous.” Raymond James echoed this tone on Tuesday, seeing uncertainty surrounding Apple’s forecast given an expected delay in the iPhone 12, a product Nomura Instinet expects “will fall short of a supercycle.” Both Deutsche Bank and Raymond James still recommend buying Apple shares.

Amazon remains a consensus favorite on Wall Street -- more than 90% of the firms tracked by Bloomberg recommend buying it -- but the degree to which the share price exceeds analysts’ average price target is near a multiyear high, suggesting that even bulls aren’t expecting much additional upside.

Among other mega-cap names, Microsoft rose 29% over the second quarter, its best such showing since 2009. Both Facebook and Google-parent Alphabet notched their biggest quarterly gain since 2013, with Facebook up 36% and Alphabet up 22%, based on its Class A shares. Netflix rose 21% last quarter.

All are at or near record levels, and the rallies will soon be tested as each member of the group is scheduled to post quarterly results before the end of the month, with Netflix reporting next week.

Apple Estimates

For Apple, the rally has come despite a more tepid view for its upcoming results. Wall Street expects third-quarter earnings, excluding some items, of $2.03 a share, a consensus that is down 6.8% from where it was three months ago. The consensus for revenue has declined 0.9% over the same period.

While analysts debate whether the results will justify the recent gains, many of these names are seen as potential pandemic winners. Microsoft is expected to see stronger demand for its cloud-computing and workplace collaboration products as people continue to work remotely, while the e-commerce wave lifting Amazon and others is seen as outlasting the coronavirus’s impact on brick-and-mortar stores.

Apple analysts also see a number of reasons to be optimistic for the long term, including the company’s services business, wearable products, and its stock-buyback program. “Overall, we believe the directionality and reasoning behind AAPL’s stock rise,” Deutsche Bank’s Jeriel Ong wrote. Still, the firm has “ambivalence at these levels.”

Firms expressed a similar sentiment about Netflix, which has seen higher engagement during the pandemic. Rosenblatt Securities “struggle[s] to see the upside” from current levels given “uncertainty over how [long] this favorable environment will last.” Stifel continues “to grapple with the risk/reward profile given limited 2H visibility.”

Imperial Capital downgraded the stock earlier this week, moving away from an outperform rating that it had held since starting coverage on Netflix about two years ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Following the recent advance, Netflix “will begin a fairly extensive range-bound trend as other long opportunities emerge in the media space,” the firm said.

(Removes reference to Microsoft reporting next week in seventh paragraph of story originally published July 8.)

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