Earnings season is just around the corner and Wall Street is jittery.
Though the impact of the coronavirus didn't pick up steam until mid-March, nearly the end of the quarter, the shutdowns that spread across the country have led to a wide range of companies losing sales and reporting significant losses. Discretionary retailers and restaurants have already issued warnings, and manufacturers like Ford are also facing strong headwinds as the carmaker said that vehicle wholesales fell 21% in the first quarter. Meanwhile, energy stocks have taken a beating, with oil prices at historic lows and demand way down.
However, the technology sector has generally performed well during the crisis since being stuck at home means that people are even more reliant on digital tools to help them work from home, be entertained, and have essentials delivered. And though cloud stocks like Zoom Video Communications and Slack Technologies have earned a lot of investor attention, two big-name tech stocks, Netflix (NFLX -0.83%) and Amazon (AMZN 0.23%), could be poised for big gains this earnings season.
A streamer hits its stride
If there was ever a time for Netflix to shine, it could be now. People around the world are cooped up in their homes. Some are out of work and looking for a distraction, while parents, especially those working from home, are desperate to keep their kids entertained.
Netflix has not released any concrete data showing a spike in memberships or viewing, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to indicate a jump in the streamer's popularity. Google searches for Netflix in the U.S. have climbed in recent weeks, and in Europe, regulators had asked streamers like Netflix to slow down bandwidth usage as internet infrastructure maxed out.
Additionally, the new true crime documentary Tiger King has become something of a cultural phenomenon, and Netflix's deep catalog of TV and movies is a clear strength at a time when demand for home entertainment, and time available for it, is surging.
Netflix had forecast subscriber additions of 7 million for the first quarter, but results could easily top that when it reports earnings on April 21. Better yet, the company is likely to remain many of those new subscribers, even if a deep recession hits, as the service is significantly cheaper than a traditional cable package. Meanwhile, satellite TV provider DISH Network just announced that it is cutting staff and reevaluating its business to deal with the coronavirus crisis, a sign that audiences are moving to streamers like Netflix.
E-commerce takes over
Arguably, no company is benefiting more from the consumer shifts caused by the coronavirus pandemic more than Amazon. The e-commerce giant already controlled about half of total online sales in the U.S. before that, and with stores across the country closed and many Americans afraid to venture outside because of the virus, Amazon sales have surged. Though it hasn't released any specific financial numbers, it's made some moves that show how much demand for its services has surged.
Nearly a month ago, the company said it was hiring 100,000 workers to meet pandemic-related demand, and just this week, it said it would seek to add another 75,000 jobs. By comparison, Amazon finished 2019 with 798,000 total employees.
Amazon has also slowed down shipping speed for nonessential items so it can allocate resources to fast shipping of products like food, medicine, and cleaning supplies, and is reportedly delaying its Prime Day shopping holiday. The company also paused its third-party delivery program, which competes with UPS and FedEx, to devote more resources to its core e-commerce business, and will put new food delivery customers on a waiting list as it doesn't currently have capacity to handle them.
We don't know what kind of sales spike Amazon has seen, but an update from Target gives us a clue. The big-box chain said that March comparable sales through March 25 had jumped more than 20% and that comps in food and beverage soared by more than 50%. Considering that customers are social distancing and avoiding stores, Amazon is likely seeing a similar jump in sales of essentials. It hasn't yet announced an earnings date, but its first-quarter earnings are expected by the end of April.
Where Netflix and Amazon go from here
Both tech stocks have now recouped all of their losses from the recent sell-off, but the stocks could go up from here. Beyond the pandemic, a recession is likely to pressure many of their competitors and accelerate already active shifts to video streaming from traditional Pay TV and to e-commerce from brick-and-mortar retail.
Though we're likely in the middle of the worst economic crisis in memory, both stocks could hit all-time highs following their upcoming earnings reports.