×

Technology companies are driving a capital spending surge

  • Capital expenditures are on track to post 25.9 percent growth in the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, as of Tuesday morning.
  • Much of that comes from a 59.8 percent projected growth in investments from information technology companies, the data showed.
  • Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft accounted for much of the increase, along with spending related to cloud computing and semiconductors, Credit Suisse says.
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft
Daniel Berman | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft

Technology stocks, rather than industrial heavyweights, drove much of the surge in capital investment in the first quarter, preliminary data show.

Capital expenditures are on track to post 25.9 percent growth for the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S, as of Tuesday morning. Much of that comes from 59.8 percent projected growth in investments from information technology companies.

"Internet and Software are pushing Tech capex to 5-year highs," Credit Suisse's Jonathan Golub and his team said in a Monday report that looked at the 55 percent of S&P 500 quarterly reports. They said Google parent Alphabet and Microsoft accounted for much of the increase, along with spending related to cloud computing and semiconductors.

President Donald Trump and Republicans slashed the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent late last year. But so far, the extra capital appears to have gone more into dividends and share buybacks than capital investments that typically spur economic growth. Few companies have discussed increases in capital expenditures due to tax reform, according to CNBC analysis of the latest earnings calls using financial search engine AlphaSense.

In addition, the industries whose spending is most directly tied to that growth are not investing.

Industrials are tracking for a 3.3 percent drop in capital investment for the first quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Excluding tech, growth in S&P 500 capital expenditures would slow to 19.5 percent from 25.9 percent for the quarter.

Consumer discretionary is second to tech in capex growth, and much of that is coming from e-commerce giant Amazon.com, cruise operator Royal Caribbean and General Motors, according to Credit Suisse. The report pointed out that Royal Caribbean's $1.7 billion pickup "results from several new ships."

Technology also accounts for the most capital expenditure growth among smaller companies. S&P 400 tech companies posted 48 percent growth in first-quarter capex as of Tuesday, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

"We're not hearing a lot of evidence yet of increased CapEx tied to tax reform," John J. Engel, CEO of electrical equipment distribution company Wesco International, said during an earnings call last week.

However, "we actually think that's still a future upside as we move through 2018 and into 2019," Engel said, according to a Thomson Reuters transcript from AlphaSense. "We've heard the beginnings of that with respect to some of the tech companies, citing that as a reason for stepping up their project activity or capital."

Analysts are less optimistic for the near term. Tech capital expenditures are projected to slow for the rest of the year to just 11.6 percent growth in the fourth quarter, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Growth in overall S&P 500 capital investments is also expected to drop off, and ultimately post a 2.5 percent decline in the fourth quarter.