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Tech’s earnings bonanza this week shines spotlight on growing troubles at Tesla, Google

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., during Stanford’s 2024 Business, Government, and Society forum in Stanford, California, US, on Wednesday, April 3, 2024.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

As tech’s behemoths get set to report earnings this week, they do so facing a mountain of drama.

At Google, there have been protests and restructurings, while Tesla just announced mass layoffs, price cuts and a Cybertruck recall. Microsoft’s OpenAI relationship faces fresh scrutiny and Facebook parent Meta’s major rollout of its new artificial intelligence assistant last week didn’t go so well.

The troubling news comes alongside a generative AI gold rush, as Big Tech players race the new technology into their vast portfolios of products and features to ensure they don’t fall behind in a market that’s predicted to top $1 trillion in revenue within a decade.

Wall Street has been openly jittery about the upcoming results, pushing the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down 5.5% last week, the steepest weekly slump since November 2022. Nvidia, which has emerged as an AI darling, plunged 14%, leading the slide.

“Whether this tech sell-off continues, I think really depends on how the mega-cap tech reports,” said King Lip, chief strategist at BakerAvenue Wealth Management, in an interview with CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Monday. “Valuations have definitely been more reasonable now, now that we’ve had a little bit of a correction.”

Lip said that in the last couple of weeks his firm has “trimmed some of our tech exposure.”

Tech companies have been pouring record sums into emerging generative AI startups and investing heavily in Nvidia’s processors to build AI models and run massive workloads. While that market is growing rapidly, investors are growing anxious that other issues at hand could lead to a pullback in spending.

On this week’s earnings calls, companies are likely to continue highlighting their efforts to cut costs and bolster profits, an efficiency theme that’s been running across the industry since early last year.

Tesla kicks off tech earnings season after the close of trading on Tuesday, with shares of the electric vehicle maker trading at their lowest since January 2023. Meta, coming off its biggest weekly stock slide since August, follows on Wednesday. Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet report on Thursday, giving Wall Street a close look at how businesses are planning their budgets for AI infrastructure.

Here are some of the biggest issues facing the Big Tech companies in their reports this week.

Tesla

A Tesla Cybertruck sits on a lot at a Tesla dealership on April 15, 2024 in Austin, Texas. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Tesla shares fell for a seventh straight day on Monday and are now down 43% year to date. Elon Musk’s EV company is expected to report a decline in sales of about 5%, which would be the first year-over-year revenue drop since 2020, when the Covid pandemic disrupted operations.

Tesla’s earnings follow a bruising quarterly deliveries report and additional price cuts to the company’s vehicles and its premium driver assistance system.

Last week, the EV maker said it was laying off more than 10% of its workforce, and the same day executives Drew Baglino and Rohan Patel announced their departures.

“As we prepare the company for our next phase of growth, it is extremely important to look at every aspect of the company for cost reductions and increasing productivity,” Musk wrote in a memo announcing the layoffs.

Two days later, Musk informed employees via email that the company had sent out “incorrectly low” severance packages to some laid-off workers. And on April 12, Tesla issued a voluntary recall of more than 3,800 Cybertrucks to fix a “stuck pedal” issue depicted in a viral TikTok video.

“Since late 2023, sentiment on Tesla (TSLA) has deteriorated,” wrote John Murphy, an analyst at Bank of America, in a note on Monday.

Meta

Meta has been a good bet for investors this year despite last week’s slip. The stock is up 36% in 2024 after almost tripling last year, when CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Wall Street that 2023 would be the company’s “year of efficiency.”

But Meta still faces plenty of questions. For one, its Reality Labs division, which houses all of the virtual reality technologies for the nascent metaverse, is expected to show a quarterly loss of over $4 billion for a second straight period.

When it comes to AI, Meta debuted its assistant — Meta AI — on WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Messenger last week. It was the company’s biggest-ever AI initiative and is set to go up against OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google‘s Gemini.

But Meta AI quickly led to controversy. The assistant reportedly joined a private parents’ group on Facebook and claimed to have a gifted and disabled child, sounding off in the comments about its experiences with New York-area educational programs. In another case, it reportedly joined a Buy Nothing forum and tried to do free giveaways for nonexistent items.

Now, Meta has to show that it’s ready for what’s certain to be a heated election season, as President Joe Biden and Republican Donald Trump prepare to square off for a second time. Dating back to Trump’s successful presidential bid in 2016, Facebook has been a problematic place for political discourse and misinformation.

Meta is expected to report revenue growth of 26% from a year earlier to $36.16 billion, according to LSEG. That would mark the fastest rate of expansion for any period since 2021.

Alphabet

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet Inc., during Stanford’s 2024 Business, Government, and Society forum in Stanford, California, US, on Wednesday, April 3, 2024. 

Loren Elliott | Bloomberg | Getty Images

On a busy Thursday for tech earnings, Alphabet is likely to capture the most attention.

Last week, finance chief Ruth Porat announced a restructuring of Google’s finance department, a move that will include layoffs and relocations, as the company drives more resources toward AI.

On the same day, Google terminated 28 employees, according to an internal memo viewed by CNBC, following a series of protests against labor conditions and the company’s contract to provide the Israeli government and military with cloud computing and artificial intelligence services.

The dismissals came after nine Google workers were arrested on trespassing charges Tuesday night, staging a sit-in at the company’s offices in New York and Sunnyvale, California, including a protest in Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian’s office. The arrests, livestreamed on Twitch by participants, coincided with rallies outside Google offices in New York, Sunnyvale and Seattle, which attracted hundreds of attendees, according to workers involved.

On Thursday, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai announced a consolidation of the company’s AI teams, including responsible AI and related research teams, under the Google DeepMind umbrella. He said in a memo that “this is a business” and employees should not “attempt to use the company as a personal platform, or to fight over disruptive issues or debate politics.”

Pichai has struggled to quell employee discontent on a host of matters since the pandemic, as the company has been forced to reckon with slower growth than in years past and an investor base that’s become increasingly concerned with costs.

Analysts expect a first-quarter revenue increase of 13%, which would mark a second straight quarter of year-over-year growth in the low teens. For four straight periods, between mid-2022 and mid-2023, expansion was in single digits as advertisers pulled back due to soaring inflation and rising interest rates.

Alphabet shares are up 12% this year, topping the S&P 500, which has gained 5.1%.

Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (R) speaks as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman (L) looks on during the OpenAI DevDay event on November 06, 2023 in San Francisco, California. Altman delivered the keynote address at the first ever Open AI DevDay conference. 

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

As for Microsoft, the company seemed to narrowly avoid a European Union antitrust probe into its relationship with OpenAI, after EU regulators had pointed to the possibility earlier this year.

Microsoft has invested more than $10 billion in OpenAI, whose ChatGPT chatbot kicked off the generative AI boom in late 2022. AI has been a major focus of Microsoft’s earnings calls since then, as the company serves as OpenAI’s key technology partner through its Azure cloud infrastructure.

Microsoft has invested billions of dollars in AI startup Anthropic as well, and has taken stakes in Mistral, Figure and Humane.

The company’s position in AI has been the biggest driver behind its ascent to $3 trillion in market cap, passing Apple as the most valuable U.S. company. However, the stock is only up 6.8% this year, trailing many of its peers, and some analysts see potential weakness in parts of Microsoft’s customer base, notably small and medium-sized businesses.

“MSFT has more SMB and consumer exposure than any other stock we cover,” wrote analysts at Guggenheim, in a note dated April 21. “And while those cohorts have held up surprisingly well during this soft macro period, we are starting to see some indications of weakening demand from them.”

Microsoft is expected to report sales growth of 15% in the first quarter, according to LSEG, but analysts are projecting a slowdown over each of the next three periods.

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