We've heard a lot about antitrust cases in the tech industry lately. It seems that most large companies in the arena, and even a number of smaller ones, are under close scrutiny in this regard, and, if they are not the subject of antitrust investigation now, you can bet that they were in the past or will be in the future. But what effects do these investigations have on the stock prices of these companies? Below, I will focus on the current antitrust investigations involving Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to find out how they could impact investors.
Recently, Intel lost an antitrust case and was asked to pay a fine of $1.33 billion for hindering AMD's (NASDAQ:AMD) chances in the chip market. Intel, however, maintains that the case was built on evidence that was "profoundly inadequate" and is therefore looking to have the ruling overturned. The company says that inadequate evidence was used in order to build an extreme case that showed the company in a worse light than necessary. The initial court ruling was passed in 2009. Since then Intel has increased by 62.39%, though it's only up 2% in the year to date. Intel's market cap is over $120 billion so the fine shouldn't hit the company too hard (though it'll bring its gross profits down from the $8.2 billion it brought in last quarter).
The biggest antitrust story that we have been hearing about at the moment is related to Google and the accusations that the company has used its dominance on the market in an abusive way that is not in line with fair competition. In most recent news, it seems that Google is willing to change its tune in order to please regulators and, more importantly, dodge the huge antitrust fine. The company will address the four major concerns raised about its practices (namely "how it might favor its own services in search results, how it displays content posted at other web sites, how it places ads next to search results, and how its advertising business works"). In the last week, Google has started showing signs that it would bend to the European Commission's demands, but over that time its stock still increased by about 3.21%, indicating very little concern from investors. Google is down from its 2012 starting point, but its EPS is 32.99 which gives the investment a lot of strength.
Recently, Microsoft earned the title of being the company charged with the highest antitrust fine in Europe from a single case. The company has had to pay about $1.1 billion as a result of the fine being upheld in court, closing a case that has been ongoing since 1998. However, despite the news, Microsoft continues to be a hot stock this year. The stock is up over 10% this year and has a promising few quarters ahead of it. In addition, with a market capital of $258.41 billion the company is unlikely to feel the pressure of the antitrust fine in any significant way.
Next, Comcast was accused of monopolizing the Philadelphia cable TV market. However, it seems that a court is willing to hear the company's antitrust appeal on the matter. The initial case involved a group of people form Philadelphia suing for charges that they had to pay based on the supposed monopoly. Now, Comcast has been given the opportunity to present its case again, and hopefully have the ruling overturned. Over the last six months, shares in Comcast have shown an increase of 28.38%, indicating that the news of the antitrust situation hasn't caused too much concern here. In any case, with a market capital of $86.36 billion the company should have little trouble weathering the antitrust storm. The company is sitting near its 52 week high and looks to stay near the top.
Apple is in danger of having to face an antitrust situation in Italy based on the accusation that the company does not comply with Italian warranty and guarantee rules and regulations when distributing its products in the country. Apple, however, disagrees with the antitrust complaint. In addition it says that it is based on an incorrect interpretation of the law. As another large company this news is also unlikely to affect its stock prices as it has more than enough market capital to deal with the situation. In any case at this point I find it unlikely that an antitrust allegation in this regard will in fact be upheld at all, and I feel that Apple, like Google, will barely be affected at all by this news. Needless to say, Apple's $560 billion market cap should keep it stabilized against any kind of antitrust situation.
Overall it seems that although there are a number of antitrust probes currently underway, they have little to no serious effect on the stock of the companies involved in them. The tech industry appears to have fortified itself well against this possibility, which may be a result of watching Microsoft's dealings before. Most of these companies are buys for me, though the larger point is that investors shouldn't be frightened by any news of impending or previous antitrust cases.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.