Thanks to the Federal Reserve Board’s “free money party” (aka Quantitative Easing/QE and Zero Interest Rate Policy/ZIRP) from 2009-March 2022, investors desperate for returns sent their money to Silicon Valley, which pumped it into a wide range of start-ups that might not have received any funding in other times. Extreme valuations of both public and private companies made it easy to issue stock or take on loans to expand aggressively or to offer sweet deals to potential customers that quickly boosted market share.
“The whole tech industry of the last 15 years was built by cheap money,” said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst with Guidehouse Insights. “Now they’re getting hit by a new reality, and they will pay the price.”
Cheap money funded many of the tech acquisitions that were a substitute for internal growth. Two years ago, as the pandemic raged and many office workers were confined to their homes, Salesforce bought the office communications tool Slack for $28 billion, a sum that some analysts thought was way too high. Salesforce borrowed $10 billion to do that deal. This month, Salesforce said it’s laying off 8,000 employees, about 10% of its staff, many of them from Slack.
More than 46,000 workers in U.S.-based tech companies have been laid off in mass job cuts so far in 2023, according to a Crunchbase News tally. Last year, more than 107,000 jobs were slashed from public and private tech companies Here are just a few:
- Amazon is laying off 18,000 office workers and shuttering operations that are not financially viable. More below.
- Google parent Alphabet is cutting 12,000 jobs.
- Microsoft, which has been riding high on cloud revenues for years, is eliminating 10,000 jobs.
- Cisco plans to cut 5% of workforce – approximately 4,100 people will lose their jobs.
- Facebook parent Meta announced in November that it plans to eliminate 13% of its staff, which amounts to more than 11,000 employees.
- Shortly after closing his $44 billion purchase of Twitter in late October, new owner Elon Musk cut around 3,700 Twitter employees.
- IBM said today it would eliminate about 1.5% of its global workforce, which amounts to a “ballpark” figure of 3,900 job cuts.
The easy money era (which started shortly after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in September 2008) had been well established when Amazon decided it had mastered e-commerce enough to take on the physical world. Its plans to expand into bookstores was a rumor for years and finally happened in 2015. The media went wild. According to one well-circulated story, the retailer planned to open as many as 400 bookstores. Instead, the eRetail and cloud computing leader closed 68 stores last March, including not only bookstores but also pop-ups and so-called four-star stores. It continues to operate its Whole Foods grocery subsidiary, which has 500 U.S. locations, and other food stores. Amazon said in a statement that it was “committed to building great, long-term physical retail experiences and technologies.”
“High rates are painful for almost everyone, but they are particularly painful for Silicon Valley,” said Kairong Xiao, an associate professor of finance at Columbia Business School. “I expect more layoffs and investment cuts unless the Fed reverses its tightening.”
Addendum (Feb 26, 2023):
Ericsson will lay off 8,500 employees globally as part of its plan to cut costs, according to a memo sent to employees and seen by Reuters. “The way headcount reductions will be managed will differ depending on local country practice,” Chief Executive Borje Ekholm wrote in the memo. “In several countries the headcount reductions have already been communicated this week,” he said. “It is our obligation to take this cost out to remain competitive,” Ekholm said in the memo. “Our biggest enemy right now may be complacency.”
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