The five companies that spent the most on Washington DC lobbying in 2019 were:
- Amazon: $16.79 million
- Facebook: $16.71 million
- Boeing: $13.81 million
- Northrop Grumman: $13.62 million
- Comcast Corp: $13.36 million
That Amazon and Facebook spent nearly $3 million more than Boeing on lobbying last year even with the latter’s 737 MAX jet crisis speaks volumes about how these tech giants perceive their future regulatory risk. Both face antitrust investigations with the Federal Trade Commission and knew a spotlight would shine extra bright on their business practices during an election year like 2020. Consequently, both spent record amounts on lobbying last year.
With that, here are the latest lobbying expenditures for major tech companies through Q4 2019 from the Center for Responsive Politics:
- 2019: Amazon spent $16.79 million on lobbying last year, besting its 2018 record of $14.4 million.
- Last quarter: The company spent $4.42 million in Q4 2019, up 16% y/y and the most the company has paid for DC lobbying in a single quarter.
- Past 10 years: Amazon paid $80.1 million towards getting more influence in DC over the last decade.
- 2019: Facebook spent $16.71 million on lobbying, exceeding its prior annual record of $12.62 million in 2018.
- Last quarter: The company spent $4.43 million in Q4 2019, down slightly by 7% from the prior quarter but up 57% from the same period last year.
- Past 10 years: Facebook has paid $80.7 million towards lobbying over the last decade.
- 2019: Alphabet spent $12.66 million on lobbying in 2019 and was the ninth highest spender on lobbying last year. The company spent a record sum of $21.8 million on lobbying in 2018. The large fall in spend isn’t because of less regulatory pressure, but rather likely due to the company reorganizing its lobbying operations.
- Last quarter: The company spent $2.97 million on lobbying in Q4, down from $5.01 million in the same quarter last year.
- Past 5 years: Alphabet spent more on lobbying in the last five years ($85 million) than Amazon and Facebook spent individually over the previous ten years (+$80 million each).
We expect Alphabet to start ramping up its lobbying spend as the company gets its political team back in order, especially after reports this week that the Department of Justice and state attorneys general may eventually combine their investigations into the company.
In light of this data, here are our investment takeaways:
#1: Alphabet, Facebook and Amazon hold an outsized weighting in the S&P 500 and two of its major sectors.
- These three companies have a collective weighting of nearly 8% in the S&P 500. GOOG/L represents 3.20% of the index, AMZN is 2.84% and FB is 1.93%.
To put that in perspective, the aggregate weighting of all three companies exceeds 5 entire sectors of the S&P: consumer non-cyclical (7%), energy (4%), utilities (3%), real estate (3%) and basic materials (2%).
- Facebook and Alphabet account for nearly half (43.3%) of the Communication Services sector; 19.9% for FB and 23.4% for GOOG/L.
- Amazon makes up almost a quarter (23.7%) of the Consumer Discretionary sector.
Bottom line: all three companies are under investigation by either the FTC or DOJ, so investors in the Communication Services and Consumer Discretionary sectors are vulnerable to these legal risks.
#2: We continue to favor the S&P Technology sector as it provides exposure to “Big Tech”, but with somewhat less regulatory risk. For example:
- Apple has the highest weighting in the tech sector at 20.2%. Granted, the company spent a record $7.35 million on lobbying last year and is also under investigation by the DOJ. Even still, that lobbying figure is well under what AMZN/FB/GOOG spent as its data collection and user model leaves it less exposed to regulatory risks.
- Microsoft has the second highest weighting in tech at 19.2%. The company’s spend has been climbing higher over the past couple of years and totaled $10.3 million in 2019. Even still, the company’s spending on lobbying peaked all the way back in 2013 at $10.5 million.
The upshot: Amazon and Facebook spent the most on lobbying compared to any other company – tech or not – last year. Alphabet also made the top ten spenders list for garnering political favor. We continue to believe their lobbying contributions are a useful proxy for their own perceptions of regulatory risk. On a positive note, at least they have the cash to spend and are clearly using it more than most companies. That said, the tech sector may serve as a more insulated option in an election year when “Big Tech” will be heavily scrutinized by both sides of the aisle.