Llast week was a bad time to be a tech billionaire. As the pandemic drove the world online, the founders of Facebook, Google and Microsoft reaped fortunes described as “pornographic” and cemented their position as among the richest group ever to tread the planet. Well, the “good times” are over. In a way.
The world̵[ads1]7;s largest technology companies reported their latest earnings last week, and for most, the news was bad. Meta (formerly Facebook), Alphabet (formerly Google) and Microsoft saw billions wiped from their values as investors began to worry that the tech titans’ best days were behind them. As investors tried to exit, the five biggest technology stocks crashed by a combined $950bn (£820m) at their lowest point. The collapse also hit the fortunes of their creators.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune plunged $11 billion on Wednesday after Meta Platforms reported a second consecutive quarter of disappointing earnings. Shares in the company fell by a fifth – a sharp decline that has brought Zuckerberg’s total wealth decline this year to more than $87 billion. The numbers may be no more than arithmetically off — Zuckerberg, 38, is still worth about $38 billion, according to Bloomberg — but it’s a striking drop from the $142 billion he could count on in September 2021. Almost all of his wealth is tied up. up in Meta stock; he owns more than 350 million shares. As of Thursday, Zuckerberg was ranked 28th on the Bloomberg list, a drop of 25 places from his previous third place.
Meta’s 71% drop in value this year is due to many things, including ad tracking controls introduced by Apple, a softening in digital ad spending, the challenge to Facebook-owned Instagram by TikTok, and Meta’s multi-billion dollar investment in the metaverse – the virtual world it throws money into despite a less than warm reception, even from his own employees.
That investment has troubled investors. Zuckerberg has said he expects the project to lose “significant” amounts of money over the next three to five years. On Wednesday, he asked for patience.
“I think we’re going to solve each of these things over different periods of time,” Zuckerberg said. “And I appreciate the patience, and I think those who are patient and invest with us will end up being rewarded.” Wall Street seems pretty out of patience.
CNBC TV host Jim Cramer, who has been a booster for Meta, looked close to tears after the latest results were announced. “I made a mistake here,” Cramer told viewers. “I was wrong. I trusted this leadership team. It was a bad idea. The hubris here is extraordinary, and I apologize.”
Zuckerberg is not alone. According to Forbes, the technology billionaires have lost a combined $315 billion since last year.
On Thursday, Amazon reported that this holiday season would be less merry than analysts had expected and that consumer spending was in “uncharted waters,” triggering a 20% drop in its stock price. The decline hit Amazon founder Jeff Bezos with a whopping $4.7 billion that day. Bezos had already lost nearly $60 billion by 2022, and still had a net worth of around $134 billion.
A day earlier, Microsoft’s earnings report showed that reliable cloud computing revenue growth in its Azure division slowed, triggering a nearly 8% drop in the company’s valuation. It will hit Bill Gates, whose fortune has fallen this year by nearly $30 billion to around $109 billion.
Even Tesla founder Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and now the owner of Twitter, has not been immune to the downturn. Shares in Tesla, the electric car maker, have fallen 43.7% so far this year. That has reduced the would-be Mars colonizer’s fortune by $58.6 billion over the past 12 months to a still astronomical $212 billion.
But despite the week’s stock market bloodshed, 56 of the 65 tech billionaires continued Forbes magazine’s list — one that includes Oracle founder Larry Ellison, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — is still richer than it was three years ago.
Earlier this year, Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies think tank that leads its program on inequality, estimated that American billionaires had seen their combined wealth rise more than $1.7 billion, a gain of more than 58%, in the pandemic. The latest declines have, Collins now says, reduced this to $1.5 billion, or 51%.
“The gains were so extraordinary in the two years the pandemic lasted, it was almost pornographic,” he said. “The billionaires essentially disconnected from the real world and the real economy. Even if their fortunes are now adjusting downward, who else has had a 51% gain in their assets over the past two years?”
The billionaires are not the real victims. Technology companies have come to dominate US stock markets, and their decline is dragging down the broader market, and with it the pensions and savings of Americans who are also struggling with rising interest rates and 40-year high inflation.
The bigger question is: how long will this fall continue, and who will be hurt the most? It is unlikely to be great technological aristocrats. “If wealth is going to disappear from the economy, this is the best place to disappear from,” says Collins. “It might slow the flow into philanthropy, but the reality is that most billionaires give to their own foundations and donor-advised funds. But that might mean there’s less dynastic wealth, which I think is ultimately a good thing.”