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(Bloomberg) -- Signal has become the most-downloaded app in Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city that stirred fears of curbs on civil liberties.The messaging app, endorsed by whistle-blower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden, provides end-to-end encryption to secure messages from being read by a third party as they travel between users. It has topped both Apple Inc.’s and Google’s mobile app stores, according to App Annie data.Hong Kong detailed on Monday unprecedented online policing powers under the new law, including warrants for “any action” necessary to remove content deemed in violation. But the nonprofit responsible for Signal said that it won’t cooperate with any requests for user data from Hong Kong courts -- joining tech giants like Microsoft Corp. in the wake of the law’s passage -- in part because it doesn’t collect any data to begin with.“We never started turning over user data to HK police. Also, we don’t have user data to turn over,” it wrote on Twitter.Signal’s privacy-first ethos includes the app’s deliberate ignorance of what its users are doing, which goes above and beyond the likes of Telegram, another secure messenger that’s been popular in Hong Kong amid protests against the Beijing government. Virtual private networks, designed to disguise a user’s digital footprints, also saw a big spike in downloads in May as plans for the national security law started to emerge from the Chinese capital.Read more: VPN Downloads Surge in Response to Hong Kong Security LawThe controversial law went into effect June 30 and has already had a chilling effect on free expression in Hong Kong. It forbids speech and actions that might be seen as encouraging secession from China, terrorism, subversion of state power or collusion with foreign forces. Private messaging platforms have become a refuge as a result, with Hong Kongers retreating to unmonitored forms of communication.(Updates with data from App Annie in second paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
In the latest trading session, Apple (AAPL) closed at $372.69, marking a -0.31% move from the previous day.
(Bloomberg) -- Arm Ltd. plans to transfer its data and device-management business to parent Softbank Group Corp. to focus on its main semiconductor operations and accelerate growth.The Internet of Things Services Group was billed by Arm as a key initiative to expand into managing information from millions of new devices being connected to the internet.The change will put Arm in a stronger position to innovate in its central business “and provide our partners with greater support to capture the expanding opportunities for compute solutions across a range of markets,’ Arm Chief Executive Officer Simon Segars said Tuesday in a statement. The transaction will require board approval, the company said.The Cambridge, England-based company is one of Softbank founder Masayoshi Son’s biggest bets. He bought Arm in 2016 for $32 billion saying that the company’s technology, which was already at the heart of all smartphones, had greater potential to grow as connectivity expands to become part of most electronics.Arm sells chip designs and also licenses the fundamentals of semiconductors that are used by companies such as Apple Inc. and Qualcomm Inc. to create their own chips.Softbank’s founder has come under pressure as some of his other projects have unraveled or fallen well short of his bullish projections. In May, Softbank reported a record operating loss triggered by the writedown of portfolio companies at its Vision Fund arm. Many Vision Fund investments, including Uber Technologies Inc., tumbled in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, which has curtailed demand for ride hailing and other sharing economy services that Son has long favored.Son has said that he planned to cash in on his investment in Arm by returning it to the public markets once it had gone through a heavy period of investment to fuel new growth. The IoT business was part of this plan. Arm’s leadership argued that the difficultly in managing new devices and exploiting related data was holding back the adoption of technology such as building sensors and connected factory equipment.Softbank’s leader has been vague about when he might sell shares in Arm. In 2018, he said it would happen in about five years.(Updates with CEO comment in the third paragraph.)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
Analysts are optimistic about Apple's post-pandemic performance, and Microsoft is reportedly interested in shelling out $4 billion to expand its gaming business.
Augmented Reality market booms with its increasing use cases. Companies like Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon and Facebook among others are putting strong efforts to bolster presence.
Investors could easily tap the hottest "big four" tech giants under one roof through ETF.
The recent green signals for the overall economy and Nasdaq bull run seems to have intensified the race to $2 trillion market cap, bringing Microsoft (MSFT), Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN) in focus.
Here we present five technology stocks poised to benefit from the growing adoption of digital payment solution especially amid coronavirus outbreak such as FB, AMZN & others.
With the stock market continuing its rebound from lows during the coronavirus market crash earlier this year, some companies' stocks have done more than recover -- they've soared to new all-time highs. Two notable businesses that have seen their shares skyrocket to record levels recently are Netflix (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). Shares of Apple hit $375.77 at one point on Monday, marking a new all-time high for the stock.
(Bloomberg) -- Samsung Electronics Co.’s shares slid nearly 3% on concerns that growth in chip demand may slow as the world emerges from Covid-19 in the second half of the year, outweighing a better-than-expected profit.The world’s largest manufacturer of memory chips and smartphones posted operating profit of 8.1 trillion won ($6.8 billion) in the three months ended June, beating the 6.2 trillion won average of estimates. Sales for the quarter were 52 trillion won, according to preliminary results released Tuesday. The company didn’t provide net income or break out divisional performance, which it will do later this month when it releases final results.The estimates include a one-time gain related to the display business. While the company didn’t offer details, some analysts estimated it could have recorded more than 1 trillion won in compensation from Apple Inc. for fewer-than-promised display orders.Despite its strong topline numbers, Samsung shares closed 2.9% down in Seoul on Tuesday, faring worse than the 1.1% drop in the KOSPI. Part of the negative sentiment may be explained by worries of a price decline in the key memory segment, where stockpiling orders in the current period might taper off.“The market is concerned about a potential slowdown in server expansions. Memory prices could be weakening in the 2H,” said Park Sung-soon, analyst at Cape Investment & Securities.The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a silver lining for the tech industry in hastening the shift toward online activity such as video conferencing, web-based education and entertainment streaming, helping Samsung sell more chips in the quarter.“Because of this work-from-home situation, there’s been strong demand for a couple of its products,” said Kiranjeet Kaur, a research manager at IDC. “The demand for DRAM has seen a spike in Q2 due to demand in server and data centers.”Read more: Samsung’s Surprise Leaves More Confusion Over Tech: Tim CulpanAlthough Samsung had warned of a profit slide in the second quarter due to plant and store closings, it managed to mitigate the fallout by cutting marketing expenses and selling TVs and monitors to people spending more time working and playing at home.Samsung’s mobile and consumer electronics businesses took a hit from the closures since mid-March, but stores and factories began reopening across North America and Europe from June. Hana Financial Investment forecasts Samsung will report around 5.5 million smartphone shipments for the second quarter when it releases its full breakdown.While Samsung’s business appears to be weathering the virus storm, the company has another significant challenge to deal with in determining the fate of its de-facto leader, Jay Y. Lee. The company’s vice chairman is facing allegations of corruption in Korea that could lead to prosecution and a return to prison.Read more: Samsung Billionaire’s Fate at Risk Despite Role in Virus Fight(Updates with share price and analyst comment from first paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Samsung Electronics Co.’s second-quarter earnings seem like good news. But it’s really not as simple as that.Revenue beat estimates by around 3.6% while operating profit topped even the highest of sell-side analyst estimates by 6.3%, the South Korean giant reported Tuesday. Right off the bat, those numbers carry a caveat: The company posted a one-time gain related to its display business that would have helped the bottom line.Still, there’s no denying that the top line was largely ahead of expectations — likely due to sales of memory chips used in servers. That doesn’t mean that Samsung has beaten the Covid-19 pandemic, though. Total revenue is 7.4% lower than a year earlier. These numbers reflect the mid-point of guidance, which Samsung provides within days of a quarter’s closing. We don’t yet know the size of that one-time profit on its display business. However, Bloomberg News reports that it could be as much as 1 trillion won ($840 million) in compensation from Apple Inc. for fewer-than-promised orders of screens used in iPhones, iPads and other devices. Such a figure would account for most of the discrepancy between earnings and estimates.Rather than being good news, the payment would represent a bad sign for the technology sector, reflecting weaker demand for gadgets. We saw further signs of that late Monday, with Foxconn Technology Group’s Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. reporting a 9.1% slump in June sales, closing out second-quarter revenue with a 2.3% drop. Hon Hai assembles iPhones. This is traditionally low season for Apple’s flagship device, so much of that decline will be for other products that Foxconn makes, including personal computers, servers and data-center equipment. While a single-digit drop isn’t terrible given what’s happening in the global economy, it does contrast with the optimism shown in stock markets in recent weeks. Apple shares are at an all-time high, while Amazon.com Inc.’s market value just topped $1.5 trillion.Samsung investors seem a little befuddled, too. Its shares rose as much as 1.6% Tuesday after the announcement, but fell later in the morning as the market started digesting the news. The reaction also tells us that rather than being a positive sign, this earnings tidbit highlights just how confusing the current situation is.Samsung’s results are an allegory for much of what we see in the tech sector these days: Bad news (revenue dropping) taken as optimistic because it beat estimates, while seemingly good news (operating profit surpassing expectations) actually being a sign of weakness due to it being a compensatory payment.These are the kinds of conflicting signs we’ll see a lot more this earnings season. Investors need to get used to flying blind.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Tim Culpan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. said it is “assessing” a new Hong Kong security law that has sparked concern about criminalizing protests.The Cupertino, California-based technology giant also said it has not received requests for Hong Kong user data since the law kicked in last week, and noted that it doesn’t get requests directly from the government there.“Apple has always required that all content requests from local law enforcement authorities be submitted through the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in place between the United States and Hong Kong,” the company said. Under that process, “the U.S. Department of Justice reviews Hong Kong authorities’ requests for legal conformance.”On Monday, other tech companies, including Google, Twitter Inc. and Facebook Inc. said they would pause processing user data requests from the Hong Kong government as they review the new law.On its website, Apple said that in the first half of 2019, it received 358 requests for user device information, 155 requests related to fraudulent transactions, and two requests for account data from Hong Kong.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) -- The chief executive officers of Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc. will testify on July 27 before a congressional panel investigating competition in the technology industry, according to an announcement from the House Judiciary Committee.Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook are likely to face a torrent of critical questions from lawmakers on the panel’s antitrust subcommittee as the investigation builds a case for revamping antitrust enforcement.Bezos may be in for a particularly tough session. Unlike the other chiefs, the world’s richest man will be addressing Congress for the first time, and his company has sparred with subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline over previous testimony by another company official and allegations of anticompetitive conduct.The appearances may be virtual, according to the Monday evening announcement, which said additional details on the format would be forthcoming.“Given the central role these corporations play in the lives of the American people, it is critical that their CEOs are forthcoming,” said Cicilline and Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler in a joint statement. “As we have said from the start, their testimony is essential for us to complete this investigation.”Some of the companies had been reluctant to send their top executives even though Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, has said he would be willing to subpoena CEOs. He has said he wants to use their appearances to inform a final report recommending changes to antitrust law.Antitrust scrutiny of giant technology companies is accelerating. Facebook and Alphabet’s Google both face competition inquiries by federal enforcers and nearly all 50 states. Amazon is under investigation in California, Bloomberg has reported, and both the e-commerce giant and Apple are facing scrutiny from the European Union.The Judiciary Committee had previously announced that the four men would testify, but had not set a date or format.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
NVIDIA and two other tech giants will give your portfolio valuable exposure to the growing AI market.
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc., Google and Twitter Inc. -- all of which are blocked in the mainland -- are now headed toward a showdown with China that could end up making Hong Kong feel more like Beijing.Hours after Hong Kong announced sweeping new powers to police the internet on Monday night, those companies plus the likes of Microsoft Corp. and Zoom Video Communications Inc. all suspended requests for data from the Hong Kong government. ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok, which has Chinese owners, announced it would pull its viral video app from the territory’s mobile stores in the coming days even as President Donald Trump threatened to ban it in the U.S.Their dilemma is stark: Bend to the law and infuriate Western nations increasingly at odds with China over political freedoms, or simply refuse and depart like Google did in China a decade ago over some of the very same issues. Much like that seismic event shook the mainland in 2010, Big Tech’s reaction now could have a much wider impact on Hong Kong’s future as a financial hub -- potentially sparking an exodus of professionals and businesses.“Google is pretty important to people here, and if that’s cut off then it’s really extremely serious,” said Richard Harris, a former director at Citi Private Bank who now runs Port Shelter Investment Management in Hong Kong. “In Hong Kong we don’t know where the boundaries are, and that’s threatening to a lot of business people.”Over the past week, Hong Kong authorities have begun explaining how they’ll enforce a law that officials in Beijing called a “sword of Damocles” hanging over China’s most strident critics. The legislation, which sparked the threat of sanctions from the Trump administration and outrage elsewhere, has had a chilling effect on pro-democracy protesters who demonstrated for months last year while also raising fresh questions for businesses.On Monday night, the Hong Kong government announced sweeping new police powers, including warrant-less searches, property seizures and online surveillance. If a publisher fails to immediately comply with a request to remove content deemed in breach of the law, police can seek a warrant to “take any action” to remove it while also demanding “the identification record or decryption assistance.”“We are absolutely headed for a showdown, and there are no indications that the Hong Kong government is particularly prepared if Facebook or another company refuses a removal request,” said James Griffiths, a journalist and author of “The Great Firewall: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet.” “These companies appear to have realized that there is no compromise they could make that would truly satisfy Beijing or make them seem trustworthy. This could make them more willing to stand up against Chinese censorship in Hong Kong.”American internet giants have made overtures toward Beijing in recent years as the market exploded, but few have so far actually acceded to China’s censorship framework.Of the rare examples, Microsoft’s LinkedIn censors content to allow it to operate a Chinese version, while Apple Inc. complies with local regulations in policing its app store and other services. Reports that Google entertained the notion of returning -- via potentially a censored version of search called Project Dragonfly -- enraged lawmakers and its own employees torpedoed the idea.Worldwide CensorshipTwitter and Facebook have never been consistently available in China, but Mark Zuckerberg also flirted with Beijing before abandoning the notion as regulatory scrutiny and a user backlash grew at home. In both instances, external factors helped scupper the feasibility of operating in the world’s No. 2 economy.“I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in,” he said last year in a speech at Georgetown University. “And now we have more freedom to speak out and stand up for the values we believe in and fight for free expression around the world.”Still, the internet heavyweights are already censoring content across the world for both authoritarian regimes and western democracies, according to Ben Bland, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Australia. After a mass shooting last March in Christchurch, New Zealand, top social media companies joined with more than 40 countries in a concerted call to end the spread of extremist messaging online.Germany has banned online Nazi and right-wing extremist content, and most countries have blocks in place against online pornography and criminal activity. In Thailand, strict lese majeste laws lead to censorship of content deemed offensive to the royal family, while Communist-run Vietnam expunges anything deemed “anti-state.”Reputational DamageBig tech companies must gauge the importance of the markets in China and Hong Kong with possible reputational damage in other places they operate, according to Stuart Hargreaves, a law professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong who researches surveillance and privacy issues.“I do not expect to see the Great Firewall extended from mainland China to Hong Kong, at least in the medium term,” he said. “It is not necessary for Beijing’s goal of tamping down certain sentiments and would be the obvious end of Hong Kong as a global city and its particular role as an Asian finance hub.”The exit of TikTok, the viral video app that has insisted it operates independently of Beijing, could actually benefit the Communist Party by removing a forum pro-democracy protesters have used to post videos calling for an independent Hong Kong. Last year, demonstrators used the Reddit-like forum LIHKG as well as Telegram to organize leaderless protests.TikTok on Tuesday played up its U.S. ties while pushing back against comments by U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who said the government is considering a ban of the short video app. Trump later said the move may be one possible way to retaliate against China over its handling of the coronavirus.“We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,” a TikTok spokesperson said, adding that it’s led by an American CEO.Platforms like Telegram that provide end-to-end encryption could become increasingly popular, said Joyce Nip, senior lecturer in Chinese Media Studies at the University of Sydney. Telegram said it has never shared data with Hong Kong authorities, adding that it doesn’t have servers in the territory and doesn’t store data there. Signal has become the most-downloaded messaging app in the city, topping the communications category in Apple’s and Google’s mobile app stores.‘Knife Edge’Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, didn’t answer a question Tuesday on her response to tech companies that stopped processing data requests from her government. Still, she played down any long-term impact on the city’s position as a financial hub around the same time that Pompeo released a statement blasting the Communist Party’s “Orwellian censorship” in Hong Kong.There “has been an increasing appreciation of the positive effect of this national security legislation, particularly in restoring stability in Hong Kong as reflected by some of the market sentiments in recent days,” Lam said a day after local stocks entered a bull market. “Surely this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong.”The regulations stemmed from a new national security committee created by the law that includes Lam and Luo Huining, Beijing’s top official in the city. While China’s leaders know Hong Kong needs a free flow of information to function as a world-class financial center, “much seems to rest in the hands of the few newly empowered bureaucrats who will police the new laws,” according to Steve Vickers, chief executive officer of Steve Vickers and Associates, a political and corporate risk consultancy.“Foreign firms are on something of a knife edge here, caught between their natural affinity with freedom of information and their commercial desire to operate in the huge Chinese market,” said Vickers, a former head of the Royal Hong Kong Police Criminal Intelligence Bureau. “It is now more a matter of what is actually done, as opposed to what is being said -- by either China or the foreign IT companies -- that will be the key.”(Updates with Signal’s rise in the 19th paragraph)For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
More than $91 billion of Berkshire Hathaway's $214 billion portfolio is invested in this very well-known company.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- It doesn’t take much imagination to see the Federal Reserve supporting the stock price of Apple Inc.The central bank’s Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility recently released details about its “Broad Market Index,” which is a roadmap for which individual bonds it will buy for its portfolio after changing the rules to avoid forcing issuers to certify they’re in compliance with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Just looking at the 13 companies with weightings of at least 1%,(2)which collectively make up almost one-fifth of the index, a few things stand out. First, there are six automobile companies, with subsidiaries of Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp. and Germany’s Volkswagen AG and Daimler AG as the three largest issuers overall. In fourth is AT&T Inc., the largest nonfinancial borrower due in no small part to its $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc. Then there’s Apple. As a reminder, it’s the largest U.S. company by market capitalization at $1.57 trillion, edging out Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. Its shares have easily rebounded from the selloff caused by the coronavirus pandemic, rallying 24% so far in 2020. Yes, Apple has about $100 billion of debt outstanding, but it’s also known for having one of the largest cash piles in the world. It’s so big, in fact, that the company could repay all its obligations and still have roughly $83 billion left over.With so much cash, that naturally raises the question: Why does Apple take on debt in the first place?In each of Apple’s past three dollar-bond sales, in November 2017, September 2019 and May, the company said it would use proceeds at least in part to repurchase common stock and pay dividends under its program to return capital to shareholders. In total, the company has doled out more than $200 billion since the start of 2018. It’s easy to see why company leadership would see it as too cheap not to borrow. Apple has the second-highest investment-grade credit ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings, allowing it to issue $2.5 billion of 30-year bonds in May that yielded just 2.72%. Its $2 billion of three-year debt, within the Fed’s maturity range, priced to yield less than 0.85%.Luca Maestri, Apple’s chief financial officer, said during the last quarter’s earnings call that the company has more than $90 billion in stock buyback authorization left, adding that it plans to continue the same capital allocation policy going forward.Obviously, cash is mostly fungible for large enterprises, and any number of American companies in recent years surely issued bonds for reasons other than buybacks and also repurchased shares. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimated some $700 billion of shares were acquired by U.S. companies in 2019, which would make them the biggest net buyer of equities.Still, Apple openly using debt sales to help finance share repurchases puts the Fed in a somewhat awkward position. Chair Jerome Powell has consistently framed questions about its secondary-market facility in the context of supporting the central bank’s full employment mandate. Workers are “the intended beneficiaries of all of our programs,” he said in a hearing last month. It’s possible Americans “are able to keep their jobs because companies can finance themselves.”And yet, the Fed’s secondary-market facility comes with no strings attached. In fact, as I noted last month, its maneuver to create Broad Market Index Bonds circumvented the CARES Act requirement that any company must have “significant operations in and a majority of its employees based in the United States.” Rather than focus on the American worker, the stated goal is to “support market liquidity for corporate debt,” and, by extension, keep borrowing costs down for creditworthy firms. So there’s every reason to expect that Apple can and will issue bonds again in the near future, at an even cheaper rate, to fund stock buybacks and dividends. That, in turn, would most likely support share prices.That shouldn’t sit well with many people. Even President Donald Trump, who has used the stock market as a barometer of his economic policies, has signaled a preference for capital projects over buybacks. On March 20, just before the S&P 500 Index fell to its lowest level of the Covid-19 selloff, he lamented that companies used the money saved from his 2017 tax cut to repurchase shares rather than build factories. He said at the time that he would support a prohibition on buybacks for companies that receive government aid.“When we did a big tax cut and when they took the money and did buybacks, that’s not building a hangar, that’s not buying aircraft, that’s not doing the kind of things that I want them to do,” Trump said. “We didn’t think we would have had to restrict it because we thought they would have known better. But they didn’t know better, in some cases.” The Fed’s strategy for buying corporate bonds is passive enough that few would equate it to receiving direct assistance from the federal government. The same can’t be said about the central bank’s Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility, which as of last week is open for business. Companies that want to place bonds directly with the Fed must certify that they have “not received specific support pursuant to the CARES Act or any subsequent federal legislation” and “satisfy the conflicts-of-interest requirements of section 4019 of the CARES Act.” As my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Matt Levine described in detail last week, there’s a huge amount of paperwork for issuers, and the Fed has the right to demand its money back if the forms are wrong and companies use funds for unapproved reasons.In all likelihood, these constraints will turn almost every company away from the Fed’s primary-market facility. Instead, finance officers will reap the benefits of the central bank’s broad secondary-market interventions to issue new debt to private investors at rock-bottom rates and with no such rules, as they have for the past three months. And Wall Streeters will be happy with business-as-usual in the credit markets.To put it plainly one more time: The Fed didn’t have to loosely interpret the law to create this index of corporate debt. It was already following through on its pledge to buy exchange-traded funds and had a system in place for companies to become eligible for individual purchases. It chose this third route, encouraging headlines like “Buying Corporate Bonds Is Almost Easy Money, Strategists Say.” What could go wrong?Now that it’s scooping up individual bonds issued for share buybacks without any stipulations, policy makers should be asked again why this program is the right way to go about supporting the recovery. The truth is likely that corporate America needs low-cost debt to survive. Apple and its shareholders are more than happy to tag along for the ride.(1) The Fed's facility has not yet purchased debt from all the companies in the index, at least according to its disclosure, which only covers the$429 million in bonds it bought on June 16 and 17. Its largest purchases were Comcast Corp., AbbVie Inc. and AT&T Inc.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Brian Chappatta is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering debt markets. He previously covered bonds for Bloomberg News. He is also a CFA charterholder.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Europe has its first $50 billion internet company: Spotify Technology SA breached the mythical barrier on Thursday. While it’s a moment worth savoring, the Swedish company isn’t entirely deserving of the inflated price tag. Unfortunately, investors seem a little out of tune with the music streaming service’s real potential.The stock has more than doubled from a March low, spurred by an aggressive push into podcasting. Since May it has signed deals with podcasting giant Joe Rogan, Superman and Wonder Woman parent DC Comics and reality TV star Kim Kardashian, adding to acquisitions such as the $230 million deal for production house Gimlet Media Inc. Altogether, it’s a $1 billion bet on a flourishing industry.It’s nice to see a European tech company finally flying high. The continent has long bemoaned its lack of a consumer-internet company to rival the giants of Silicon Valley. The continent’s tech behemoths often struggle to capture the popular imagination: Germany’s SAP SE makes enterprise software, ASML Holding NV builds machines to make semiconductors and Amsterdam-based investor Prosus NV owes its 138 billion-euro ($155 billion) valuation to a 31% stake in Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. Spotify is a rare success.The podcasting strategy of Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek is shrewd, but alone it is not going to fix Spotify’s biggest problem: paying a giant slice of revenue to the record industry for royalties. That expenditure is why it has a pitiful (for an internet company) gross margin of just 25%.Yes, podcasts will reduce the Stockholm-based firm’s dependence on music for its income, allowing it to chase higher margin advertising dollars where it won’t have to pay a cent to the record labels. But advertising is still likely to remain a small slice of total revenue. Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Amine Bensaid estimates ad revenue will account for just 12% of sales by 2022, up from 8% this year. The impact on the gross margin will be limited.For sure, Spotify is concentrating on the right trends. Revenue in the U.S. podcast market is set to double to $1.4 billion by 2024, and that will help Spotify’s business slowly become more like Netflix Inc. The video streaming giant pays a flat rate for content, meaning that every additional subscriber brings incremental profit.But investors are already valuing Spotify more generously than Netflix. Including cash and debt, it’s valued at 48 times the analyst consensus for its 2024 Ebitda, a measure of earnings. Netflix is valued at just 18 times expected 2024 Ebitda. Even using the most optimistic analyst estimate for that year, Spotify is valued at more than 22 times Ebitda. Investor expectations are out of kilter with reality.What’s more, deep-pocketed rivals such as Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are also eagerly eyeing podcasts. Both firms have been seeking to develop more original shows, Bloomberg News has reported. Podcasting is a slightly different proposition for the two tech giants, since, if successful, they can subsequently be adapted for their video streaming offerings where Spotify doesn’t compete. There will be a lot of hands taking money from the increasingly lucrative podcast pot.The market reaction is hardly CEO Ek’s fault. He’s making much-needed bets to diversify his firm away from its reliance on the record industry. But investors are dancing a little too exuberantly to his melody.This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Alex Webb is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Europe's technology, media and communications industries. He previously covered Apple and other technology companies for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.