Whither Facebook and Google?

Resolving conflicts about investing in companies who do bad things.

I am writing this post on our last night in Vancouver. We came up for the Maven Coalition Conference, Maven as in this site where I now post most of my content. The company had some smallish number of contributors and has expanded considerably via acquisition so the conference had a lot of attendees.

A big part of the conference was devoted to the extent to which many content providers had come to build businesses around Facebook and Google's platforms, lucrative businesses, but changes in how Facebook and Google (more specifically YouTube) do things had come to essentially wipe out these peoples' businesses. I am not in touch with all the specifics but there were a lot of people at the conference to whom this had happened so I believe it is a real thing. I would wonder whether or not people hurt by this did not do enough to, as Nassim Taleb might say, make themselves anti-fragile against some sort of adverse outcome. That is not an attempt to blame anyone but every business is is vulnerable to something. This has always been a side gig for me, I haven't made much directly from blogging but have been lucky enough to monetize it through other outlets (TheStreet.com and then AdvisorShares).

Taking every anecdote on its face and if you believe these companies are the Evil Empire, do you invest with them because they are dictating so many things or do you try to swim against that, finding companies that one way or another don't wield that sort of power and whom you believe are doing good things or maybe more likely are less evil.

There is no single right answer to this. The dilemma is not new. Monsanto is another similar story from a different realm, many people believed they were doing horrible things (I think many people still believe this but it seems to be less of a front burner issue). I certainly am not going to hold it against anyone who had a five-bagger in Facebook or made a ton from Monsanto (I owned the name for clients quite a few years back.

For now it would be difficult as a fund investor to avoid FB and GOOG, they obviously dominate the S&P 500 or any other domestic or global large index as well as any broad tech fund. A fund investor who really wanted to avoid these names could use sector funds for the sectors other than tech and use individual stocks for their tech exposure or they could use very narrow thematic ETFs. Examples could include one of the robotics funds (many clients own ROBO) or maybe the Amplify Online Retail ETF (IBUY). Again, just examples and there are others.

On a related note, iShares just launched a gun-free ETF (no makers of hand guns). This would quite obviously seem connected to the Parkland tragedy so it is not impossible that the Evil Empire story would evolve into funds that somehow avoid Facebook and Google.

I want to stress that any issue like this is one you need to decide for yourself, you should feel no pressure or guilt from anyone else, it is your money and your portfolio.

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