AMZN & FB: Record Quarterly DC Lobby Spend

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AMZN & FB: Record Quarterly DC Lobby Spend

Which companies have spent the most on lobbying this year? Here are the top five:

  1. Amazon: $12.4 million
  2. Facebook: $12.3 million
  3. Northrop Grumman: $11.0 million
  4. United Technologies: $10.5 million
  5. Boeing: $10.4 million

That tech holds the top two spots – even higher than a heavily scrutinized pharma industry or a deeply troubled plane manufacturer – reflects just how risky these companies perceive their regulatory environment. Both Amazon and Facebook face antitrust investigations, while the latter is also dealing with pushback on its libra online currency and criticism over its political content and privacy practices. Both companies spent a record quarterly sum on lobbying again in Q3 after doing so in Q2, showing they continue to try and ramp up their influence in DC.

Here are the latest lobbying expenditures for major tech companies through Q3 2019 from the Center for Responsive Politics:

Amazon

  • Amazon spent $4 million in Q3 2019, marking the most the company has paid for DC lobbying in a single quarter.
  • Amazon has spent $12.4 million on lobbying thus far in 2019 compared to the annual record of $14.4 million last year. Given that the company has spent $4 million during the last two quarters, it will likely post another annual high for 2019 as a whole.

Facebook

  • Facebook spent $4.8 million in Q3, up nearly 70% from the same period last year. That Mark Zuckerberg just testified in front of Congress on Facebook’s libra cryptocurrency and the company’s role in American political life (among many other topics) is likely no coincidence.
  • So far, the company has spent $12.3 million on lobbying in 2019 versus the annual record of $12.6 million last year. The company should therefore post a new record again this year.

Alphabet

  • Alphabet’s Google spent $2.8 million on lobbying in Q3, down from $5.5 million in the same quarter last year. That drop is not because GOOG feels less regulatory pressure, but is more likely due to the company reorganizing their lobbying operations.
  • The company has spent $9.7 million on lobbying so far in 2019. Even with the reshuffling of its DC operations, Alphabet is still the ninth highest spender currently on lobbying this year. The company also spent a record sum of $21.8 million on said efforts in 2018.

As for our investment implications, two points:

#1: All three companies – Google, Facebook and Amazon – hold meaningful weight in the S&P 500 and two of its sectors.

  • These three companies have a collective 7.8% weighting in the S&P 500. AMZN represents 3.0% of the index, GOOG/L is also 3.0% and FB is 1.8%.
  • Facebook and Alphabet/Google account for nearly half (42.7%) of the Communication Services sector; 18.7% for FB and 24.0% for GOOG/L.
  • Amazon makes up over a fifth (22.3%) of the Consumer Discretionary sector.

The upshot: all three companies are in the Department of Justice’s antitrust crosshairs. The Communication Services and Consumer Discretionary sectors therefore leave investors with outsized exposure to these legal risks.

#2: If you want exposure to “Big Tech” companies, but with less regulatory risk, look to the S&P Technology sector.

  • Microsoft has the highest weighting in tech at 19.4%. The company’s spending on lobbying peaked all the way back in 2013 at $10.5 million. So far this year, Microsoft has spent $7.8 million versus $9.6 million in 2018.
  • Apple has the second highest weighting in tech at 18.7%. While Apple is likely more at risk than Microsoft when it comes to regulatory risks, Apple’s data collection and user model leaves it less vulnerable than that of AMZN/FB/GOOG.

    That’s why the company is probably not lobbying as aggressively as AMZN/FB/GOOG. Apple has spent only $5.5 million on lobbying this year. The most the company has spent on lobbying in a given year was $7.2 million back in 2017. Last year, Apple actually decreased its lobby spend by 6.6% to $6.7 million.

Bottom line: Amazon and Facebook have spent the most on lobbying this year, followed by Google and Apple, and that order is a good proxy for each company’s own perceptions of their future regulatory risk. On the plus side, Amazon, Facebook and Google are all three top ten spenders when it comes to companies trying to influence DC. That means they are willing to contribute what they need to garner political favor in DC. Even still, the tech sector offers some reprieve as we head into an election year when these types of issues come to the forefront of attention.