“The scope of this regulatory oversight is changing. People used to focus on just consumer welfare and a price effect. That has now expanded to what harm you are doing to competitors and non-price effects. The scope is expanding, and some of these companies—this is Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook—they have engaged in kind of favorable treatment of proprietary products.”
Sandip Bhagat, CIO at Whittier Trust talks about why investors shouldn’t allow regulatory threats and investigations to scare them away from tech stocks, as well as his two top picks.
When you talk about regulation, you have to talk at two levels: privacy first and then antitrust. Privacy may not be such an issue, and in a very perverse way, the large players here may actually come out winners because they have the scale to absorb the cost of meeting that regulatory compliance. They’re also multi-national in nature, even today, so the experience in Europe where the GDPR is already in place will stand them in good stead should it come to the U.S.
Switching to the antitrust component of regulatory risk and one of the things that is being discussed is anti-competitive acquisitions, so I think they would come under attack. What happens in the worst case, there is a forced breakup. We put a very low likelihood for that outcome. But fines will come along the way. There will be rulings that say you give equal parity during search processes and displaying of third-party vendors and their products. All of those we think can be absorbed by these companies because of their free high cash flow margins.
On Buying Tech Stocks Under Scrutiny
Here are two really compelling reasons to think about technology stocks now and really for a secular future. One is macro in consideration, the other one is micro and fundamental.
At the macro level, what is the environment? We have seen slower growth than normal after the global financial crisis and, as a result of that, interest rates are lower. Slow growth and low-interest rates help growth stocks. When growth is scarce, growth companies get rewarded with a higher multiple and low-interest rates help growth stocks because they have a higher equity duration and sensitivity to interest rates.
On Microsoft’s Long-Term Value
If there is one take away, it’s a stock to own for the long-term. It’s a great way to compound wealth. It’s indeed a vehicle for inter-generational wealth transfer. The company has rediscovered itself, moved away from a licensing model to a subscription model. Satya (CEO Satya Nadella) has reformed the company. While they’re making inroads in cloud computing, they are actually very unique in that they can play in the hybrid cloud solution space with a foot in on-premise software along with cloud-based application deployment.
On Amazon’s Brand Loyalty
It’s economic mode is based on scale, convenience and brand loyalty, which doesn’t get talked about much. People talk about the technology backbone of Amazon. But that brand loyalty, they’ve been able to convert that into greater user engagement and adoption and then monetized it with more and more transactions to gain a bigger share of the wallet.