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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Apple's results were particularly strong.

  • The company reported its best September quarter ever, even though it got no revenue from its new iPhone lineup. Typically, Apple starts selling the iPhone in September, giving it at least a couple of weeks of sales in the third calendar quarter (Apple's fiscal fourth).
  • While iPhone sales were down from a year ago, revenues from iPads, Macs, wearables and services were all up.
  • The Mac sales growth was even more impressive considering Apple plans to begin its transition from Intel chips to homegrown processors later this year, a shift that normally could slow sales.

Amazon saw its revenue grow 37% from last year as consumers continued to shift spending online.

  • Despite incurring an estimated $2.5 billion in pandemic-related costs, Amazon profits reached $6.3 billion, just under triple what they were a year ago.
  • Amazon's Web Services business, meanwhile, saw revenue grow to $11.6 billion, up from $9 billion a year ago.

Google parent Alphabet, after seeing its first-ever decline in revenue last quarter, returned to growth in the third quarter, posting better-than-expected revenue of $46.2 billion.

Facebook reported only modest user growth, but its quarterly revenue beat Wall Street expectations.

  • The company said growth in monthly active users in the U.S. and Canada was down slightly from the second quarter, which the company attributed to an easing of COVID- 19-related lockdown protocols.
  • CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said preorders of the company's Oculus Quest 2 headset exceeded expectations and were five times those for the original Quest.

Between the lines: The results reveal that the companies can do much even in a suffering economy, with many people unemployed. In part, that's because tech is the lifeline to work and school for significant chunks of the global population.

  • That helped Apple sell laptops and Amazon sell all kinds of things, and made Facebook and Google even more critical lifelines to friends and information.

Context: The federal government reported strong growth in the U.S. economy for the third quarter Thursday morning, making up some of the record losses in Q2 but still leaving the economy in a deep hole compared to its pre-pandemic peak.

  • While Congress has yet to pass any new coronavirus relief, the economy was still protected some last quarter by expanded unemployment benefits and other stimulus.
  • Fresh relief appears unlikely, which could start to lower consumer spending.

The big picture: The tech companies face additional challenges beyond the pandemic and its economic effects.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
Jan 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

The state of the U.S. economy after one year of the coronavirus

Source: St. Louis Fed; Billions of chained 2012 dollars; Chart: Axios Visuals

The U.S. economy shrank by 3.5% last year, the Commerce Department reported, with the country seeing both its largest quarterly GDP decline and its largest quarterly GDP increase in the second and third quarters, respectively.

Where it stands: The 3.5% decline is the worst year for the U.S. since at least the end of World War II, and the economy is more than $473 billion smaller than it was before the pandemic hit.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 29, 2021 - Economy & Business

Chevron posts another quarterly loss under weight of pandemic

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Chevron posted another quarterly loss Friday in the latest sign of how the pandemic is still weighing on oil companies despite some price recovery during the second half of the year.

Driving the news: The oil giant reported a $665 million loss for the October-December period, but it shrinks to $11 million on an adjusted basis after considering charges on its acquisition of Noble Energy and "foreign currency effects."

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 29, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Electric vehicle sales far surpass pandemic expectations

Data: EIA; Note: 2020 figures are preliminary; Chart: Axios Visuals

New International Energy Agency preliminary data shows that worldwide sales grew by an estimated 40% last year, exceeding the agency's expectations.

Why it matters: The increase occurred despite a drop on overall global vehicle sales.