Power

An amazing 2020 for tech stocks, in charts

The pandemic helped tech stocks to soar. What happens in 2021 is less clear.

Stock market up arrow
Image: Greg Ory/Ataur Rahman/Protocol

For most people, 2020's been a pretty awful year. Over 1.7 million people have died from COVID-19, countless small businesses have been destroyed by lockdowns and we've all gotten much too familiar with our living rooms. But for anyone who owns tech stocks, 2020's at least had a silver lining.

As work, education and retail went virtual, tech stocks of all kinds boomed. Big Tech did particularly well. Take Amazon, which rebounded from March lows to end the year up 74%. And while some commentators thought the economic impact of the virus would hurt a luxury brand like Apple, its shares are up 80%. The wider market, meanwhile, is up just 14%.

Having outperformed the market so significantly, Big Tech has now cemented its hold over the S&P 500. America's five biggest companies — Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook — now account for almost 20% of the 500-company index. Apple's share alone has increased from 4.6% at the start of the year to 6.8% today.

It's not just Big Tech doing well, either. Over the past decade, the information technology and communication services sectors have steadily grown in size, a trend that only continued this year with the two now making up almost 40% of the S&P 500.

Two stocks stood out above all else. Zoom, rapidly pivoting from a workplace tool to a platform for … basically everything, grew revenues at an astonishing pace. Its stock price followed, ending the year up more than 500%. But even Zoom couldn't compete with the stock market's erstwhile darling, Tesla. The electric car pioneer's stock soared almost 700%, with last week's S&P 500 addition capping off Elon Musk's remarkable year.

Some sectors did particularly well amid the pandemic. The shift to remote work gave cloud providers a major boost, buoying the cloud stocks represented in the SKYY ETF. All those data centers found themselves in need of new hardware to deal with the extra demand, helping the semiconductor companies in the SOXX ETF. And once on the cloud, end-users had a whole new bucket of threats to think about: something the cybersecurity providers in the HACK ETF were eager to help tackle.

Going into 2021, the question is whether tech can maintain this outperformance. There's reason to think the good times won't last: As vaccines are rolled out and the world returns to something approaching normality, investors may rotate out of their "stay-at-home" trades in favor of the energy and travel companies that are expected to bounce back.

That could have significant consequences: Given tech's grip on the market, any collapse in tech stocks could affect the entire economy. It's Big Tech's world, in other words — we're just living in it.

Policy

Google is wooing a coalition of civil rights allies. It’s working.

The tech giant is adept at winning friends even when it’s not trying to immediately influence people.

A map display of Washington lines the floor next to the elevators at the Google office in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As Google has faced intensifying pressure from policymakers in recent years, it’s founded trade associations, hired a roster of former top government officials and sometimes spent more than $20 million annually on federal lobbying.

But the company has also become famous in Washington for nurturing less clearly mercenary ties. It has long funded the work of laissez-faire economists who now defend it against antitrust charges, for instance. It’s making inroads with traditional business associations that once pummeled it on policy, and also supports think tanks and advocacy groups.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Sustainability. It can be a charged word in the context of blockchain and crypto – whether from outsiders with a limited view of the technology or from insiders using it for competitive advantage. But as a CEO in the industry, I don’t think either of those approaches helps us move forward. We should all be able to agree that using less energy to get a task done is a good thing and that there is room for improvement in the amount of energy that is consumed to power different blockchain technologies.

So, what if we put the enormous industry talent and minds that have created and developed blockchain to the task of building in a more energy-efficient manner? Can we not just solve the issues but also set the standard for other industries to develop technology in a future-proof way?

Keep Reading Show less
Denelle Dixon, CEO of SDF

Denelle Dixon is CEO and Executive Director of the Stellar Development Foundation, a non-profit using blockchain to unlock economic potential by making money more fluid, markets more open, and people more empowered. Previously, Dixon served as COO of Mozilla. Leading the business, revenue and policy teams, she fought for Net Neutrality and consumer privacy protections and was responsible for commercial partnerships. Denelle also served as general counsel and legal advisor in private equity and technology.

Workplace

Everything you need to know about tech layoffs and hiring slowdowns

Will tech companies and startups continue to have layoffs?

It’s not just early-stage startups that are feeling the burn.

Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

What goes up must come down.

High-flying startups with record valuations, huge hiring goals and ambitious expansion plans are now announcing hiring slowdowns, freezes and in some cases widespread layoffs. It’s the dot-com bust all over again — this time, without the cute sock puppet and in the midst of a global pandemic we just can’t seem to shake.

Keep Reading Show less
Nat Rubio-Licht

Nat Rubio-Licht is a Los Angeles-based news writer at Protocol. They graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in newspaper and online journalism in May 2020. Prior to joining the team, they worked at the Los Angeles Business Journal as a technology and aerospace reporter.

Entertainment

Sink into ‘Love, Death & Robots’ and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Our favorite picks for your weekend pleasure.

Image: A24; 11 bit studios; Getty Images

We could all use a bit of a break. This weekend we’re diving into Netflix’s beautifully animated sci-fi “Love, Death & Robots,” losing ourselves in surreal “Men” and loving Zelda-like Moonlighter.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Workplace

This machine would like to interview you for a job

Companies are embracing automated video interviews to filter through floods of job applicants. But interviews with a computer screen raise big ethical questions and might scare off candidates.

Although automated interview companies claim to reduce bias in hiring, the researchers and advocates who study AI bias are these companies’ most frequent critics.

Photo: Johner Images via Getty Images

Applying for a job these days is starting to feel a lot like online dating. Job-seekers send their resume into portal after portal and a silent abyss waits on the other side.

That abyss is silent for a reason and it has little to do with the still-tight job market or the quality of your particular resume. On the other side of the portal, hiring managers watch the hundreds and even thousands of resumes pile up. It’s an infinite mountain of digital profiles, most of them from people completely unqualified. Going through them all would be a virtually fruitless task.

Keep Reading Show less
Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email: akramer@protocol.com), where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Latest Stories
Bulletins