President Joe Biden is coming for Big Tech. On Jul. 9, the Commander in Chief signed an executive order seeking to crack down on what the U.S. government alleges are anti-competitive practices in the technology sector. No doubt, this order will affect tech stocks; it’s far reaching and includes 72 actions involving more than 10 federal agencies. The order also aims to reshape America’s antitrust laws. Basically, the Biden administration is accusing some of the country’s largest tech firms of monopolistic practices which stifle smaller competitors and exploit consumer information.
“Capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation,” Biden told the media when signing the wide-reaching directive. The President’s action comes at a time when Big Tech is already being scrutinized by Congress and numerous U.S. states.
So, with political pressure mounting from all sides, here are seven names to watch as Biden’s new order puts tech stocks under the microscope.
- Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)
- Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)
- Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL)
- Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA)
- Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN)
- Salesforce (NYSE:CRM)
- Facebook (NASDAQ:FB)
Tech Stocks to Watch: Microsoft (MSFT)
Microsoft has been here before. In the late 1990s, this Seattle-based technology giant was the subject of an aggressive antitrust case.
In the “United States v. Microsoft Corporation,” the federal government alleged Microsoft had illegally maintained a monopoly position in the personal computer (PC) sector. Specifically, the government took issue with Microsoft restricting the ability of computer manufacturers to uninstall Internet Explorer and use competing programs like Netscape instead.
While lawmakers threatened to break up Microsoft — and while the company’s then-CEO Bill Gates was put through a public grilling — ultimately the case was settled on appeal. This was after Microsoft agreed to allow computer manufacturers to adopt non-Microsoft software.
Ironically, this company has not yet been targeted in the current antitrust actions. Of course, though, that could change in the coming months. Year-to-date (YTD), MSFT stock us up 24% at around $277 per share.
As the largest company in the world by market capitalization (currently about $2.37 trillion), consumer technology giant Apple is in just about every conversation concerning monopolistic practices and antitrust cases, landing it squarely on this list of tech stocks to watch. For example, this Silicon Valley-based company has been accused of anti-competitive practices for preinstalling a number of apps on its devices which cannot be deleted.
Now, legislation is winding its way through Congress. The changes would enable people to permanently remove preinstalled Apple-created apps. To be clear, though, the bill does not restrict Apple from preinstalling its own apps. Instead, it would stop Apple from blocking users from deleting the apps post-installation. But AAPL is fighting back; the company claims that this new policy could expose customers to malware, ransomware and pirated software that could steal data and harm users.
Today, AAPL stock is up 7% YTD at around $142 per share.
Tech Stocks to Watch: Alphabet (GOOGL)
Alphabet, the parent company of dominant search engine Google, is currently battling many antitrust cases around the world. For example Alphabet is contesting a recent fine of $592 million, which it received from the French government for anti-competitive practices. Specifically, France took issue with the way Google compensates publishers for the reuse of their news and media content, saying it violates digital copyright laws in Europe.
Additionally, Google is fighting antitrust battles in the United Kingdom, Australia and Russia, among other countries. In the United States, Google is also defending itself against charges that it illegally stifles competition and protects its dominance in online search and advertising. Some thirty-six states have even filed antitrust lawsuits against Alphabet over the way it operates the Google Play mobile app store.
Today, media coverage has noted that Google is currently being targeted more than any other tech company. Despite this fact, though, GOOGL stock has risen over 42% YTD. This one of the tech stocks is near $2,500 per share.
Nvidia hasn’t been dragged into the U.S. antitrust cases so far. However, the current climate could negatively impact this semiconductor and microchip company’s planned $40 billion acquisition of privately held Arm — a deal that is currently being reviewed by competition regulators around the world, including in the States. This acquisition would give Nvidia a market-leading position in artificial intelligence (AI) computing. That has raised eyebrows among competing companies and watchdogs.
In fact, the U.K. government has already intervened in the Arm acquisition amid concerns that the deal could lead the target company — based in Cambridge, England — to withdraw from the marketplace, raise prices or reduce the quality of its services. In the United States, the deal is also being reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Worldwide scrutiny aside, though, Nvidia hopes to conclude the deal next year in 2022.
Year-to-date, NVDA stock is up 45%. This pick of the tech stocks is also due to split on a four-for-one basis on Jul. 20.
Tech Stocks to Watch: Amazon (AMZN)
Next up on this list of tech stocks is AMZN stock. Like Google, online retail juggernaut Amazon is currently in the crosshairs of lawmakers and competition regulators, with 50% control over the e-commerce market in the United States. Mainly, regulators in the U.S. object to Amazon’s dual role as a marketplace operator and seller, arguing that this constitutes anti-competitive behavior. Last autumn, the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee said that Amazon holds a monopoly position over third-party sellers.
What’s more, outside of the States, more than 2,000 small online retailers have filed antitrust cases against Amazon in India, claiming the company favors retailers whose online discounts drive independent vendors out of business. The European Commission has also accused AMZN of violating competition law by using nonpublic data to unfairly compete against small sellers.
Of course, the company continues to fight these antitrust cases whenever they crop up. So far in 2021, AMZN stock is up a little over 8% to around $3,530 per share.
Like other names on this list of tech stocks, cloud-computing behemoth Salesforce could easily get dragged into the antitrust probes taking place in Washington, D.C. should Congress expand its efforts. This San Francisco-based company currently controls about 20% of the cloud-computing software market, “more than its 4 leading competitors combined.” With annual revenues of over $20 billion and more than 56,000 employees worldwide, it would not be a surprise to see the company targeted by competition hawks.
As with Nvidia, Salesforce also has a major acquisition at stake right now. Currently, CRM is in the process of trying to conclude its $27.7 billion purchase of Slack (NYSE:WORK), a company that runs a a messaging app for businesses and employee communication tools similar to Microsoft Teams. Right now, the Slack deal is being scrutinized by regulators in the U.S. and getting approval in the current climate could prove more difficult than initially thought.
This year, CRM stock is up a modest 6% or so at just under $237 per share.
Tech Stocks to Watch: Facebook (FB)
Last up on this list of tech stocks, Facebook is a bit different than other tech companies in that it recently won a court victory. More specifically, the U.S. antitrust case against this social network was thrown out by a federal court judge at the end of June. The antitrust suit brought against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was dismissed because prosecutors “hadn’t done a convincing enough job in defining what social networking is — or explaining their calculation that Facebook controls more than 60 percent of that market.”
Markets cheered the decision, sending FB stock past the $1 trillion market capitalization level for the first time. Other tech companies also saw glimmers of hope for their own antitrust battles. However, the U.S. court victory is but one of several anti-competitive legal challenges that Facebook is currently grappling with. For example, the company remains under pressure in Germany, where regulators are cracking down on its data-collection practices.
Today, FB stock is up roughly 24% YTD at around $338 per share.
On the date of publication, Joel Baglole had long positions in MSFT and AAPL. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Joel Baglole has been a business journalist for 20 years. He spent five years as a staff reporter at The Wall Street Journal, and has also written for The Washington Post and Toronto Star newspapers, as well as financial websites such as The Motley Fool and Investopedia.