Tech CEOs may have bashed Trump — but their stocks performed best in his first 100 days

  • S&P Information Technology stocks have risen since the inauguration
  • Tech CEOs were outspoken opponents of President Donald Trump

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, his 100-day vision was said to have been met with a crowd "as silent as a group of mourners around a grave."

More than 80 years later, a similar shroud of muted pessimism has fallen over Silicon Valley, as leaders stifle their vitriolic opposition to President Donald Trump. And yet most technology CEOs have quietly managed to walk the line between ideological defiance and tacit cooperation over the first 100 days of Trump's presidency — to great success.

In contrast to the struggling farmers of 1930s California, today's Silicon Valley is the land of $400 juicers and on-demand massage. Indeed, the technology sector has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the Trump presidency: The S&P information technology group has risen nearly 15 percent this year, more than banks, utilities, health firms, energy companies or consumer brands.

Trump takes office, a rally boosts tech

Despite loud opposition from tech firms to many of Trump's policies, investors have hoisted many tech stocks to all-time highs since the election.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq on Tuesday crossed the 6,000 mark for the first time ever. On Friday, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet stocks hit fresh all-time intraday highs, after crushing several records already this year. And the IPO market has reached a seven-quarter high in terms of capital raised, according to Renaissance Capital.

To be sure, many trends have been at play — a holiday shopping season that favored online retailers and advertisers, some better-than-expected earnings reports, and broad market gains. Consumer sentiment popped after the election, as it becomes "more difficult to disentangle political fervor from what appears to be a growing sense among consumers that the economy will experience fundamental changes," according to Richard Curtin, an economist at the University of Michigan.

But by the end of last week, Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook accounted for the bulk of the gains in the S&P 500.

Analysts also believe that tech companies are likely to be some of the top beneficiaries of Trump's proposed policies, especially tax reform. Cisco is likely to be a top beneficiary of lowered taxes on the repatriation of foreign cash, according to research from Strategas Research Partners. Apple could also be a winner, according to Baird's Will Power.

Tech angst swirled around Trump ...

All this is surprising because prior to Inauguration Day, Silicon Valley made no secret of its distaste for Trump, criticizing his policies on immigration and equal rights for women and the LGBTQ community, as well as his rhetoric on trade.

Box CEO Aaron Levie declared Trump "the scariest person in America," "obviously unelectable," and compared Trump's debate performances to "someone who's drunk at trivia night at a bar." Conservative HP boss Meg Whitman defied her political party to call Trump a demagogue that "undermined the fabric of our national character."

The discontent filtered up to the ranks of the world's richest and most powerful companies.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos said Trump's behavior "erodes our democracy around the edges" and joked he'd like to "send Donald to space." Anti-Trump protesters gathered at the headquarters of Google and Uber. Apple, Airbnb, Facebook, Intel and others filed a legal brief opposing a since-blocked executive order banning U.S. entry for refugees and citizens from certain Muslim-majority countries.

Executives who broke from tech's bastion of opposition faced immense scrutiny.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich was forced to scrap a Trump fundraiser in the 11th hour. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Y Combinator's Sam Altman fielded calls to boot Trump-ally Peter Thiel from their boards. Uber's Travis Kalanick chose to leave Trump's business advisory council after it was "misinterpreted" as an endorsement of the president — and an Oracle employee publicly resigned when CEO Safra Catz failed to follow suit.

... but then CEOs walked it back

(L-R) Amazon's chief Jeff Bezos, Larry Page of Alphabet, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg , Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump attend a meeting at Trump Tower December 14, 2016 in New York.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
(L-R) Amazon's chief Jeff Bezos, Larry Page of Alphabet, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg , Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump attend a meeting at Trump Tower December 14, 2016 in New York.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, tech CEOs have softly warmed to Trump amid the stock market bounce.

Levie told CNBC he wanted to bridge the divide with the new administration. Whitman has also committed to give Trump "the benefit of the doubt." Bezos tweeted that he wishes Trump "great success."

And Amazon has made 10 job-related announcements in the five months since the election — versus nine in the entire year prior to the election.

Like Bezos, many of Trump's harshest critics in tech touted American job creation, trotting tail between legs to the White House and currying favor with the administration, sometimes to the chagrin of their employees.

Despite opposition to Trump's travel ban, Krzanich took to the Oval Office to promote his creation of 10,000 new jobs — even though it was first announced during the Obama administration. Salesforce's Marc Benioff — who openly backed Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton — told Trump that he hoped to create 2 million jobs, perhaps more "if we all came together and unified to create a great program with your leadership."

More meetings have happened behind closed doors, with Apple's Tim Cook, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Tesla boss Elon Musk joining the administration's new White House Office of American Innovation.

Others in tech have silently squirreled away their winnings, staying out of the political limelight. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey spoke out about the travel ban but has since demurred from commenting on the president's tweeting. Zuckerberg, lambasted over whether "fake news" on social media swayed the election, managed to pen a 6,000-word salvo on society without singling out Trump.

Arguably, money speaks louder than words — technology companies have spent more on lobbying than ever under the new administration, according to documents compiled by BuzzFeed News.

Still, critics of the industry are beginning to demand that CEOs put more on the line. Ellen Pao, a former venture capitalist and CEO who has been vocal about workplace equality, has called on Dorsey and Y Combinator's Altman to take more action.

The disconnect between Trump voters and "coastal elite" technology companies has highlighted that for all their election-season bluster, the industry has plenty of work to do on diversity, gender equity, and poverty within its own ranks.

Veteran tech journalist Kara Swisher called the CEOs "sheeple," participating in "behind-the-scenes jockeying for what they really want." Tech investor Chris Sacca told Swisher that the CEOs were being "used to legitimize a fascist."

"CEOs should remember that their employees look up to them, and if they feel like their employer is not going to speak up and represent their interests — whether it's transgender issues, women's rights issues, the environment, immigration — I think it's a missed opportunity," venture capitalist Bijan Sabet told Swisher. "I think [this election] was a wake-up call."

Correction: This story was revised to correct the spelling of Sam Altman's last name.