When tech companies release earnings, people like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates can make or lose billions in a day

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$5 billion? That’s a whole lot of hoodies.
$5 billion? That’s a whole lot of hoodies.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking

You think your tech portfolio has ups and downs ? Mark Zuckerberg made $5 billion last week, and Bill Gates lost $1.6 billion the week before.

That’s all on paper, of course, and in percentage terms their gains and losses were the same as those of any other investor—it’s just that the two men hold big slugs of shares in the companies they founded. (Zuckerberg owns about 29% of Facebook; Gates still owns a little over 5% of Microsoft.) But even temporary changes in fortune for Zuckerberg, Gates and other tech titans highlight just how much difference a day—or an earnings report—can make.

Zuckerberg’s gains came when Facebook’s stock jumped nearly 30% on Thursday July 25 following the company’s rosy earnings release. It marked the biggest one-day price jump since Facebook’s IPO in May 2012 . Gates’ losses came after Microsoft wrote down a $900 million investment in its ill-fated Surface tablet and missed Wall Street earnings expectations, sending its shares down 11.4% the next day. The decline was Microsoft’s ninth biggest ever, and the biggest since early 2009.

Both men saw things moderate a little on day two: Zuckerberg gave up $221 million of his gains, leaving him about $4.7 billion ahead. Gates recouped $243 million, leaving him down only about $1.4 billion.

Over at Google, CEO Larry Page saw his fortune fall by $344 million on July 19, the day after the company’s earnings release indicated that it was still struggling with mobile ad sales. But by the second day after Google’s earnings release, Page had regained it all, plus a little under a half-million dollars more–which in Page’s portfolio amounts to breaking even.

Another of last week’s losers: Mark Pincus, the founding CEO of social gaming company Zynga, who was recently replaced by Microsoft veteran Don Mattrick. Zynga announced better-than-expected earnings on Thursday, but said it wouldn’t pursue a bid for a real-money gambling license in the US and provided a disappointing update to the current quarter. Its shares slid 14% the next day, taking Pincus’s holdings down by about $29 million.

Then there’s Tim Cook. Technically, the Apple CEO only owns a little over 50,000 shares of the company’s stock. So when Apple’s shares jumped 5.1% on Wednesday, the day after it announced better-than-expected quarterly results, Cook’s holdings made him a paltry $1.1 million.

But Cook also got 1 million restricted stock units (RSU)—effectively, shares he can’t sell until a future date—when he was made CEO in August 2011. He won’t get full rights to those shares until 2016 and 2021, assuming he stays on the job. Still, add those into the mix, and he rang up more than $20 million in gains for Wednesday. And compared to what the RSUs were worth when he got them last year, he is up a good $64 million overall.