Tech companies lay off thousands as their stock prices hit record highs
Stock prices used to say a lot about a company’s underlying business, but in today’s economy, there appears to be a disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street.
Last week, the stocks of Google-parent Alphabet, Facebook-owner Meta, and Microsoft hit all-time highs. Yet, these companies are at the center of roughly 24,000 layoffs in January alone, according to job tracking website layoffs.fyi.
That’s the highest number of firings since March, when the tech industry let go of nearly 38,000 workers.
A slew of big layoffs were announced last week, with software provider SAP letting go of 8,000 workers and Microsoft cutting 1,900 people from its gaming division.
Google also cut 1,000 workers from its San Francisco office, while eBay reduced its staff by 1,000 people.
Perhaps the most shocking number is that January’s layoffs have already exceeded the cumulative firings from the fourth quarter of 2023. And more tech workers were fired in January than in all of 2021 combined, according to the tracker.
Art Zeile, CEO of DHI group, told CNBC that many of these companies are cutting workers in product lines or divisions “that have not been successful because they want to reposition themselves for AI.”
While that may be part of their motivation, it doesn’t fully explain why Google, Meta, and Microsoft have each laid off tens of thousands of workers since Covid.
Stock prices don’t always align with reality
Since the pandemic, Meta has laid off roughly 21,000 workers, Microsoft let go of nearly 14,000 people, and Google fired more than 13,000, according to the tracker.
Despite all the layoffs, the stock price of each company is up between 89% and 155% since 2020.
Historically, rising stock prices signaled that a company’s underlying business is performing well. But experts say stock markets don’t always align with reality.
“The problem with publicly traded stocks is the vast majority of investors know almost nothing about the companies they own. Perhaps as many as 99% of market participants base all their investment decisions on [stock price],” according to Trott Brook Financial, a Minnesota-based financial planning firm.
That message was articulated years ago by Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, who famously declared, “The stock is not the company, and the company is not the stock.”
Stock prices are also forward-looking, meaning they are driven by future expectations of the company's performance, as well as external factors such as interest rates and inflation.
For example, stocks have been doing well lately partly because investors expect the Fed to cut interest rates this year.
“The Fed is done raising rates, and the market could not be more thrilled to have higher conviction in that,” Matthew Miskin, an investment strategist at John Hancock Investment Management, told Reuters.
Although stocks are on the right track, getting an accurate read on the economy is a lot harder.
What about the rest of the economy?
Tech sector layoffs aren’t the only indication that the job market is slowing. According to the Department of Labor’s JOLTS report, there were 8.79 million job openings in November—the lowest in three-and-a-half years.
By comparison, there were more than 9.5 million openings in September.
The report also showed that hiring continued to slow, falling by 363,000 to 5.465 million. That was the lowest since the start of the pandemic.
And while the government’s monthly nonfarm payroll reports have been resilient, they have to be taken with a grain of salt. As Creditnews reported, the government repeatedly revised the hiring numbers throughout 2023, including massive downgrades between August and November.
According to Mallory Vachon, chief economist at compensation software provider LaborIQ, 2024 will look a lot like the second half of 2023.
“The continued cooldown means fewer opportunities, so hiring will focus on backfilling open roles as opposed to adding net new positions,” she said.
Nick Bunker, an economic research director for Indeed Hiring Lab, added that industries with a robust hiring track record are rethinking their staffing plans this year.
“The pullback in job postings has been most stark in sectors tied to previously high-flying industries, including tech, where stock valuations have fallen and hiring plans have returned to earth,” he said.