One of the quirks of the financial sector is that its calendar tends to run slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.
The financial year ends in April, giving companies and investors a three month delay on the rest of us. Even when assessing a company’s performance over a number of a calendar year, the specifics of earnings announcements mean that full figures are not available until several weeks into the new year.
That all makes now a great time to look into the world of big business in 2014; a year that saw massive volatility across global markets, tumbling oil prices and the first buds of economic recovery appear.
It is a reflection of the last few years that tech now dominates online indices trading. In 2006, just one tech company was present in the top five global companies by market cap: Microsoft. Now, the top five is exclusively devoted to tech and oil, with Apple and Google surpassing Microsoft to sit with Exxon and PetroChina. So how did these big tech companies fare over the past year?
At the beginning of 2014, Apple was under pressure. Waning iPad sales, a loss of market share for the iPhone and a few other lingering questions led many to doubt how long the company could reign supreme over the stock market.
After peaking above $100 in 2012, shares had spent much of the past 15 months dwindling and Apple entered the year with a share price narrowly above $75. The iPhone 6 proved the perfect tonic for that malaise, though, with swirling rumours throughout the year – coupled with healthy profit – and an impressive launch in September.
One month after the iPhone 6 was launched, Apple went on a run towards a new high of $118 for its shares. Its last earnings figures showed that the new high was justified: Apple set a new record for profit from a public company in a single quarter as iPhone sales smashed expectations.
Thanks to the massively diverse nature of its business, making concrete assertions about Google’s performance is tougher than its two major rivals.
All of Google’s earnings reports in 2014 missed expectations, though, and the company’s stock hardly had a banner year. After strong growth in both 2012 and 2013, Google did manage to broach the $600 per share mark in 2014: a new high for the business. But it failed to make any headway above that figure and as 2015 began was heading back towards $500.
Google Glass, tipped by many to be the starting point for a new vanguard of wearable tech, failed to capture public hearts and has been pulled from the markets. Google’s research and development costs are increasing – with driverless cars and other futuristic products promised – and the markets will want to see a return from research sooner rather than later.
Once the Goliath to Apple’s David, now Microsoft must play second fiddle to Google in the competition for the top tech title. The company’s perceived failure to take its business successfully into the smartphone era meant that Microsoft entered 2014 facing serious questions about where to go next.
Windows 8 was nothing short of an abject failure for the business. The latest figures reveal that its market share of desktop computers is still dwarfed by its predecessor, and lags behind even Windows XP.
Despite that, on the markets, Microsoft has actually been having a fairly good time. Windows is nothing like as important to its success as once was the case, and performances from its software as a service, cloud computing and video games departments diverted attention from Windows 8.
Now, the company has revealed a new Windows with some radical departures from its previous business model. Hopes are high for a popular return to form, but whether that can be enough to restore Microsoft’s relevancy remains to be seen.