UPDATED, 11:30 a.m. ET: Shares of large technology companies including Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook were down in morning trading Wednesday, as the Senate runoff races in Georgia were leaning toward giving Democrats control of the chamber — raising concern among investors over the prospect of new regulatory action against tech giants.
That was in contrast to a rise in the broader market, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing 1.7%, up more than 500 points, as of 11:30 a.m. ET. Media and telecom companies seeing a lift included Disney (+1.3%), AT&T (+1.7%), Comcast (+0.6%), Discovery (+6%) and ViacomCBS (+5.2%).
By midmorning, big tech stocks had recovered from steeper drops earlier in the session but remained in negative territory. Facebook’s stock was down 1.4%, Apple was off 0.4% and Amazon was -1%. Alphabet (parent of Google) was inching near positive ground at -0.2%. After falling at the open, the tech-centric Nasdaq Composite index was up 0.5% by 11:30 a.m. ET.
Early Wednesday, Rev. Raphael Warnock was announced as the projected winner of the first of the two senate runoff elections in Georgia, making him the state’s first Black senator. The contest between incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff remained too close to call, although Ossoff held a slim lead.
For tech investors, the prospect of a Democrat-controlled Senate — along with a blue majority in the House and Joe Biden in the White House — is “a clear negative,” Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives wrote in a research note.
“[U]ltimately with a Senate now likely controlled by Democrats we would expect much more scrutiny and sharper teeth around FAANG [Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google] names with potential (although still a low risk) legislative changes to current antitrust laws now on the table,” Ives wrote.
Netflix’s business is seen as having less exposure to government regulations than the likes of Facebook or Google. Still, shares of Netflix were down 2.2% in midmorning trading. Roku stock initially got pulled down in the tech sell-off before rising 2.3% after the streaming platform touted a 39% increase last year in active streaming accounts to hit 51.2 million at the end of 2020.
The economic power of Big Tech became a much bigger political flashpoint in 2020 on both sides of the aisle.
Last October, the House Judiciary Committee issued a report summarizing its antitrust probe into Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google. The 449-page report by the Democrat-led committee urged Congress to enact new laws to curb the companies’ power, including laws that would further empower regulators to crack down on anticompetitive behavior as well as impose “structural separations” on tech giants to prohibit dominant platforms from entering adjacent lines of business.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department last fall sued Google, alleging it holds an illegal monopoly on search. Last month an antitrust lawsuit filed by the FTC and more than 40 state attorneys general against Facebook alleged the social giant illegally acquired competitors Instagram and WhatsApp in an abuse of its monopoly power.
While analysts say government-forced breakups of Big Tech are a long shot, they expect new regulatory conditions and/or legislation in 2021 aimed at curbing the industry’s powerhouse players, whose fortunes have only grown bigger during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We would expect a tech sell-off this morning, as the Street factors added Beltway risk into the tech sector with a delayed Blue Wave now likely coming to fruition and tech stocks caught in this political shocker,” Ives wrote in his note Wednesday.