When the stock market is going through a rough patch, investors often turn to some of its largest companies for clues about the health of the consumer and the strength of the economy, to determine whether a turning point might be near.
That's certainly the situation in 2022, with both the broad S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq 100 technology index trading in bear market territory.
Social media giant Meta Platforms (META -0.47%) will release its earnings report for the second quarter of 2022 on July 27, and it will be closely followed by global e-commerce leader Amazon (AMZN -0.15%), which reports the very next day. Here's why investors need to pay attention.
Meta Platforms faces short-term challenges
Meta Platforms owns some of the world's largest social media networks including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Nearly half the planet regularly engages with those brands, as they have a combined 3.64 billion monthly active users. Therefore, Meta's financial results can clearly signal whether businesses are spending more (or less) money on advertising, which could be indicative of the strength of the economy.
The company is facing growth headwinds because competitors like ByteDance's TikTok are increasingly winning attention. That platform has amassed over 1 billion monthly users, and its rapid growth has forced Meta to introduce a new feature on Instagram called Reels. The new feature already accounts for 20% of users' time spent on Instagram, and how quickly that segment grew in the second quarter will be very telling for Meta's ability to stave off the threat TikTok poses.
Investors will also be keeping an eye on Meta's Reality Labs segment, which burned $10 billion in 2021 and a further $2.9 billion in the first quarter of 2022. It's tasked with building the company's vision for a virtual world known as the metaverse, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks is the next frontier in social and professional networking. He initially wants to attract 1 billion users to this new-age platform, and anticipates they each could spend hundreds of dollars on digital goods and services within it.
Reality Labs' costs will likely continue to dent Meta's overall earnings per share, but how severe that dent is will depend on the growth of the rest of the business, particularly new initiatives like Reels. Analysts predict a 15% drop in Meta's 2022 full-year earnings, so the second-quarter result will be an important piece of the puzzle.
While the second-quarter results warrant attention, investors should always maintain a long-term focus. Meta's investments in the metaverse could reap astronomical benefits because that industry might be worth anywhere from $10 trillion to $30 trillion by 2030, according to metaverse proponent Matthew Ball, CEO of venture capital firm Epyllion.
Amazon represents a cross-section of the overall economy
Amazon can offer investors a more direct read on the state of the consumer because over the last four quarters, 79% of its $477.7 billion in total revenue has come from e-commerce sales. If the company fails to generate growth in that area, it could be a sign consumers are struggling with challenges like high inflation and rising interest rates.
Moreover, since Amazon Web Services (AWS) is widely regarded as the leader in the cloud services industry, it could be a bellwether for business spending. Are Amazon's business customers investing more money in technology? If so, it's a good sign they feel confident about the broader economy.
But for Amazon directly, the results of AWS are equally important because it's the profit engine behind the entire company, making up all of its operating income over the past year.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, Amazon began to report sales from its advertising segment as a separate line item from the rest of the business. This gives investors some vital information on a very economically sensitive business; if sales slow down in the second quarter, it could be a sign that companies are cutting back on their marketing spend for fear of a weaker consumer.
Still, the long-term trend of Amazon's advertising unit is up, so any dip is likely temporary, especially given the breadth of the company's media assets. They include the rights to the NFL's Thursday Night Football, plus a music platform, and of course Amazon's website, which generates over 2 billion hits a month.
Like Meta, analysts predict a full-year drop in Amazon's total earnings, but it's partly attributable to major fluctuations in the value of its stake in electric vehicle maker Rivian Automotive (RIVN 6.26%). Regardless, they estimate a strong bounce back in 2023, so if Amazon's second-quarter results are weak and its stock sputters, it might be a long-term buying opportunity.