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November 25, 2020

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Across the digital landscape, the pandemic has sped up the big moves towards e-commerce, cord-cutting, and remote work.


But one tech trend has completely reversed. While personal computer sales had been drifting downwards since its peak in 2011, this year could mark one of the sharpest increases since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were working out of their garage. People are even buying printers again!


We heard from Apple about its record Mac sales last month. Last night, both Dell Technologies and HP also reported their most recent quarterly results and the news was all about personal computer sales.


Delve into Dell’s sales and you see that overall revenue rose 3%, but its PC unit was up 8%. Inside of PC sales, consumer sales were up 14%. Consumer sales online were up 47%. And Chromebook sales more than doubled. The results were better than analysts expected and Dell’s stock, already up 37% this year, rose another 1% in pre-market trading this morning.


“I don’t think you can get by having [one] PC for everyone in the home now,” Dell COO Jeff Clarke commented to analysts Tuesday. “You have two parents likely working from home, you have multiple children working from home, it’s a multi-PC environment in the home today and I don’t think that largely changes.”


At HP, the company’s fiscal fourth quarter revenue shrank by 1% overall, but sales to consumers rose 24% for PCs and 21% for printers. The company’s “premium” consumer segment, which includes items like its gorgeous blue metal Dragonfly laptop, rose 29%. Chromebook sales (tell me if you’ve heard this one before) more than doubled. HP’s stock, up only 6% this year so far, gained another 6% in premarket trading Wednesday.


“PCs have become essential [as what] people needed for working, for learning, for gaming, for entertaining, for communicating,” HP CEO Enrique Lores noted. “And the trend that we see is for every person to have their own PC, and this is really driving significant demand.”


Analyst Amit Daryanani from Evercore joked about the strong results: “Congratulations on a nice print quite literally from you guys.”


The question is whether the PC trend has staying power. Wall Street seems convinced it’s a permanent change, but I’m more skeptical. There’s strong pent-up demand for travel, for getting off Zoom, for going back to the office and to school among the pandemic-weary public. Buying yet another laptop in 2021? I don’t think so.


Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com


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NEWSWORTHY


Checkout cha-cha-cha. Amid the wave of tech IPOs expected in coming weeks, payments standout Stripe is still looking to raise more money from the private market. Valued at $36 billion in April, Stripe is looking for new funds at a valuation of $70 billion to $100 billion, Bloomberg reports. Meanwhile, Russian e-commerce company Ozon raised almost $1 billion going public on the Nasdaq on Tuesday and its shares jumped 34% in the first day of trading.


A piece of the action. The gig economy got a boost from California voters and now the Securities and Exchange Commission wants to help, too. The agency proposed a new rule on Tuesday to allow still-private gig companies like Talkspace and DoorDash to pay their independent contractors in part with stock. As much as 15% of a gig worker's total comp, up to $75,000 over three years, could be in stock, the SEC said.


Clean up on tweetstorm aisle four. Social media companies continue trying to address the flood of election misinformation. Facebook had to temporarily boost the rankings of mainstream news organizations like The New York Times in its news feed algorithm to get users a more accurate picture of the election. And YouTube suspended right-wing cable outlet One America News Network for spreading false info about COVID-19.


Footloose and EV free. We have discussed the electric car efforts of star car designer Henrik Fisker a couple of times here. This week, Fisker unveiled a new concept for leasing his forthcoming Ocean EV SUV. Buyers may be able to lease the Ocean for $3,000 upfront and $379 a month and give it back at anytime. "A lot of young people don't want to borrow $40-50,000 to buy a car, and they want to be able to give their car back after a year or two if they don't want or need it anymore," Fisker told Business Insider. By the way, Tesla's rising stock price has made Elon Musk the world's second-richest person, behind only Jeff Bezos now.


Undo. I had it a bit backwards in Monday's new items. Former Oracle exec Jeff Epstein and former Goldman Sachs banker Brad Koenig started SPAC Apex Technology and Tianyi Jiang is the CEO and founder of its merger target, cloud helper firm AvePoint.


FOOD FOR THOUGHT


As artificial intelligence apps fueled by machine learning make their way deeper into the economy, Financial Times columnist Gillian Tett is sounding the alarm. She's calling for more oversight of A.I. in the financial sector.


We cannot hand all the creation and control of AI-enabled finance to geeks with tunnel vision; instead, the people crafting strategy must have a holistic view of their societal impact. But for this to happen, there needs to be a fourth development: politicians and the wider public must pay attention to what is under way, instead of outsourcing it to technical experts.


This will not be easy, given that AI is hard to understand. But the 2000s showed what can happen when geeks with tunnel vision go mad in finance and politicians ignore them. We cannot allow this again. If you thought the 2008 financial crisis was bad, just imagine one that moves faster and goes farther because it is enabled by AI. That should scare us into a policy debate right now.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT


What Blizzard learned by making a hit video game from home By David Z. Morris


JD Health IPO could raise up to $4 billion in one of the year’s biggest listings By Naomi Xu Elegant


Europe—and Big Tech—will give Biden a headache from Day One By David Meyer


Better conversations: The 7 essential elements of meaningful communication By Fred Dust


Small cap stocks are having their best month ever By Lee Clifford


You’re not crazy—you really hunger for social contact, scientists say By Katherine Dunn


(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)



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BEFORE YOU GO


Hopefully, its discovery won't trigger the arrival of hostile high-tech aliens, but there's a giant silver monolith in Utah's red-rock desert. A copter flight of the Utah Department of Public Safety looking for bighorn sheep came across the strange item last week.


No one knows who embedded the 12-foot-tall metal sculpture into the desert rocks. It's a mystery to ponder over the turkey and stuffing tomorrow. There will be no Data Sheet on Friday, so see you back here on Monday.


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