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An amazing 2020 for tech stocks, in charts

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

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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.

Big Tech benefits from Biden’s sweeping immigration actions

Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai praised President Biden's immigration actions, which read like a tech industry wishlist.

Newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden signed two immigration-related executive orders on Wednesday.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Immediately after being sworn in as president Wednesday, Joe Biden signed two pro-immigration executive orders and delivered an immigration bill to Congress that reads like a tech industry wishlist. The move drew enthusiastic praise from tech leaders, including Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.

President Biden nullified several of former-President Trump's most hawkish immigration policies. His executive orders reversed the so-called "Muslim ban" and instructed the attorney general and the secretary of Homeland Security to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the Trump administration had sought to end. He also sent an expansive immigration reform bill to Congress that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals and make it easier for foreign U.S. graduates with STEM degrees to stay in the United States, among other provisions.

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Emily Birnbaum

Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.

Politics

Here’s how Big Tech is preparing for regulations in 2021

Companies know that the heat is only going to increase this year.

2021 promises to be a turbulent year for Big Tech.

Photo: Ting Shen/Getty Images

The open internet. Section 230. China. Internet access. 5G. Antitrust. When we asked the policy shops at some of the biggest and most powerful tech companies to identify their 2021 policy priorities, these were the words they had in common.

Each of these issues centers around a common theme. "Despite how tech companies might feel, they've been enjoying a very high innovation phase. They're about to experience a strong regulation phase," said Erika Fisher, Atlassian's general counsel and chief administrative officer. "The question is not if, but how that regulation will be shaped."

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. 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.

People

How tech leaders changed in 2020

We asked some of tech's most forward-thinking people how their work lives changed in 2020, and how their 2021 plans are shaping up.

One of 2020's most lasting effects: A total overhaul of how we spend our time.

Image: Clockwise

It can be hard to know what to take away from 2020. It was an utterly unique year, with so many changes forced on so many people. And hopefully, 2021 and beyond won't have too much in common with the year that passed. But everyone in tech seems to agree that whatever the future looks like, it'll be different because of what happened in 2020.

In that spirit, we asked a number of leaders across the tech world to reflect a bit on a crazy year, and to tell us a few things they've learned, what's changed, and how they're bringing the new normal into 2021. Here's what they told us.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

The tech IPOs to watch in 2021

Get ready for a lot more listings in the new year.

Tech's love affair with Wall Street is going to continue into 2021.

Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images

The second half of 2020 has been an IPO bonanza. So far, it looks like 2021 will be more of the same.

Affirm and Roblox, which delayed their listings in 2020, are almost certain to go public, and they'll be joined by some of the biggest companies in tech, such as crypto exchange Coinbase.

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

People

In 2020, Big Tech reckoned with racial injustice. Its work is far from over.

From Facebook's walkouts to Amazon's facial recognition moratorium, did any of it make a difference?

Racial injustice issues engulfed the U.S. this year, and Big Tech wasn't spared.

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The movement for Black lives marched straight into the heart of some of Silicon Valley's most powerful companies this summer, with Facebook employees staging a virtual walkout over the company's policies, Pinterest employees speaking out about racism and retaliation they experienced and a parade of tech giants making heartfelt commitments to diversity and supporting POC-focused causes.

But as the year comes to a close, one of those giants, Google, is facing an uproar over the firing of Timnit Gebru, one of its top AI ethicists, after she wrote an internal message to fellow Googlers that criticized biases within the company and within its AI technology. It's a scandal Gebru's supporters argue is emblematic of the costs Black people in the tech industry bear for speaking out on issues related to discrimination every day.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
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