Technology companies often have different fiscal years and announce their quarterly result on different days, so it’s hard to make comparisons, even if you have a superhuman memory. However, a simple bar chart makes the obvious point: the old order has changed. IBM no longer dwarfs every other IT company. That function has been taken over by Apple.
Since I did this exercise three years ago, Alphabet (Google) has overtaken both Microsoft and IBM in quarterly revenues, while Hewlett-Packard has lost its position in second place. There’s no mystery about that. HP split itself into two companies – HP Inc and HP Enterprise (HPE) – and naturally both are smaller.
The original idea was that HP’s share price was being held back by the unfashionable if not doomed PC and printer divisions. If only HP could get rid of them, it would have a booming enterprise IT business. But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. HP Inc has been the more successful spin-off, and in the latest quarter, increased its revenues from PCs by 14.9 percent and from printers by 12.7 percent. Yes, it benefited from Christmas sales and currency changes (a lower dollar), but it’s still a better result than many predicted.
On the downside, HP Inc ($14.5bn) and HPE ($7.7bn) now have slightly smaller combined quarterly revenues than IBM ($22.4bn). The old HP was bigger.
Either way, Facebook has clearly been the biggest success on my chart. In February 2015, its quarterly revenues of $3.9bn made it look like a tiddler in a sea of sharks. In the same quarter this year, Facebook’s revenues were just a fraction short of $13bn, which put it ahead of Lenovo ($12.9bn), Cisco ($11.9bn), HPE ($7.7bn), Qualcomm ($6.1bn) and Amazon’s AWS ($5.1bn).
Facebook has now become the IBM of social networking, just as Microsoft became the IBM of software, Intel became the IBM of processors, Cisco became the IBM of routers, Oracle became the IBM of databases, and Google became the IBM of the web. If it’s any consolation, IBM – which used to be the IBM of everything – is still the IBM of mainframes.
My February 2015 post also included a bar chart of the quarterly profits made by the same companies. You will assume, correctly, that Apple is still dominant today. It made a profit of $20.1bn in the latest quarter, which is close to some rivals’ total revenues.
However, many large IT companies took one-time charges to pay for taxes on the cash they are holding overseas, which makes the results not fairly comparable. IBM for example, took a charge of $5.5bn, leaving it with a loss of $1.1bn. Microsoft took a charge of $13.8bn, which turned $8.7bn of operating profits into a $6.3bn loss.
Instead of a misleading graph of profits, I’ve therefore reposted the revenue chart from 2015 (below). It makes for an easier comparison with today’s numbers.