2021 Predictions: The Consensus on What Experts See in the Year Ahead
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Prediction Consensus: What the Experts See Coming in 2021

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2021 Predictions: What Experts See in the Year Ahead

Making predictions is a tricky business at the best of times, but especially so after a year of upheaval. Even so, that didn’t stop people from trying their hand at reading the crystal ball. If anything, the uncertainty creates a stronger temptation for us to try to forecast the year ahead.

Out of the thousands of public 2021 predictions and forecasts available, there are plenty of one-off guesses. However, things really get interesting when a desperate majority of experts begin to agree on what might happen. In some ways, these predictions from influential experts and firms have a way of becoming self-fulfilling prophesies, so it’s worth paying attention even if we’re skeptical about the assertions being made.

This year, we more than doubled the number of sources analyzed for our 2021 Predictions Consensus graphic, including outlooks from financial institutions, thought leaders, media outlets, consultancies, and more. Let’s take a closer look at seven of the most popular predictions:

ESG reaches a tipping point

It seems like only recently that the term ESG gained mainstream traction in the investment community, but in a short amount of time, the trend has blossomed into a full-blown societal shift. In 2020, investors piled a record $27.7 billion of inflows into ETFs traded in U.S. markets, and that momentum only appears to be growing.

prediction consensus esg

Fidelity, among others, noted that climate funds are delivering superior returns, which makes ESG an even easier sell to investors. Nasdaq has tapped ESG to be “one of the hottest trends” over the coming year.

China has a strong 2021

Financial institutions that issue predictions generally hedge their language quite a bit, but on this topic they were direct. The world’s most populous country has already left the pandemic behind and is back to business as usual. Of the institutions that mentioned a specific number, the median estimate for GDP growth in China was 8.4%.

prediction consensus china

A souring outlook on SPACs

Much like any hot trend, once enough people get on the bandwagon the mood begins to sour. Many experts believe that special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) are going to enter that phase in 2021.

prediction consensus spacs

SPACs had a monster year in 2020, raising $82 billion in capital. That’s more funds in one year than in the last 10 years combined. Of course, now that these 200+ companies are flush with capital, they’ll need to find a target. Scott Galloway argues that SPACs “are going to vastly underperform over the next two to three years” since there aren’t enough good opportunities to satisfy that level of demand.

Brands must be authentic and values-driven

Over the past few years, brands have become increasingly values-driven. In their 2021 predictions, experts see this trend being pushed even further.

Millennials, which are now the largest generation in the workforce, are shaping society in their own image, and the expectation is that companies have an authentic voice and that actions align with words. This trend is augmented by the transparency that the internet and social media have enabled.

prediction consensus values-driven companies

Being a “values-driven” company can mean many things, and often involves focusing on a number of initiatives simultaneously. At the forefront is racial inequality and diversity initiatives, which were a key focus in 2020. According to McKinsey, nine out of ten employees globally believe companies should engage in diversity and inclusion initiatives. When the chorus of voices grows loud enough, eventually actions must follow.

A great rethinking of office life is underway

The great work-from-home experiment will soon be approaching the one-year mark and a lot has changed in a short amount of time.

Even firms that were incredibly resistant to remote work found themselves in a position of having to adapt to new circumstances thanks to COVID-19. Now that the feasibility of at-home work has been proven, it will be tough for companies to walk things back to pre-pandemic times. Over 2021, millions of companies will begin reengineering everything from physical offices to digital infrastructure, and this has broad implications on the economy and our culture.

prediction consensus rethinking office life

Individuals and employers start taking wellness seriously

The past year was not good for our collective mental health. In response, many companies are looking at ways to support employees from a health and wellness standpoint. One example is the trend of giving teams access to meditation apps like Headspace and Calm.

prediction consensus wellness

This focus on wellness will persist, even as people begin to return to the office. As commercial leases expire in 2021, companies will be re-evaluating their office needs, and many experts believe that wellness will factor into those decisions.

Lastly, this trend ties into the broader theme of values-driven companies. If brands profess a desire to impact society in a positive way, employees expect actions to extend inward as well.

Big Tech backlash continues

Among experts, there’s little doubt that the Big Tech backlash will bleed over into 2021. There is a divergence of opinion on exactly what will happen as a result. There are three general themes:

    1. 1. Regulators will admonish and threaten Big Tech publicly, but nothing concrete will happen.
      2. Facebook will be broken up into parts (Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp)
      3. Companies will proactively change their business practices and look for ways to settle quickly
  • prediction consensus tech-backlash

    Aside from the thread of regulatory action, the tech sector is facing a bit of an identity crisis. Silicon Valley is grappling with the reality that the center of gravity is shifting. Pitchbook notes that Bay Area will fall below 20% of U.S. deal count for first time, and there have been very public departures from the valley in recent months.

    Faced with pressure from a number of different angles, the technology sector may have a year of soul-searching ahead.

    The Elephant in the Room

    COVID-19 is the one factor that impacts nearly every one of these 2021 predictions, yet, there were few predictions–and certainly no consensus from experts–on vaccine rollouts and case counts. It’s possible that the complexity of the pandemic and the enormous task of dealing with this public health crisis makes it too much of a moving target to predict in specific terms.

    In general though, expert opinions on when we’ll return to a more “normal” stage again range from the summer of 2021 to the start of 2022. With the exception of China, most major economies are still grappling with outbreaks and the resulting economic fallout.

    It remains to be seen whether COVID-19 will dominate 2022’s predictions, or whether we’ll be able to look beyond the pandemic era.

    The Good Stuff: Sources We Like

    Of the hundreds of sources we looked at, here were a few that stood out as memorable and comprehensive:

    Bloomberg’s Outlook 2021
    : This article compiled over 500 predictions from Wall Street banks and investment firms.

    Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway’s Big 2021 Predictions: Swisher and Galloway combine their deep understanding of the technology ecosystem with frank (and hilarious) commentary to come up with some of the most plausible predictions of 2021. From Robinhood to Twitter, they cover a lot of ground in this interview.

    Crystal Ball 2021: Fortune’s annual batch of predictions is always one to watch. It’s comprehensive, succinct, and hits upon a wide variety of topics.

    John Battelle’s Predictions 2021: John Battelle has been publishing annual predictions for nearly two decades, and this year’s batch is perhaps the most eagerly anticipated. His predictions are thoughtful, credible, and specific. It’s also worth noting that Battelle circles back and grades his predictions – a level of accountability that is to be praised.

    Like this feature? An expanded look at 2021’s predictions will be shared with our VC+ audience later this month.

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    Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

    Inflation rates are reaching multi-decade highs in some countries. How aggressive have central banks been with interest rate hikes?

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    Interest Rate Hikes vs. Inflation Rate, by Country

    Imagine today’s high inflation like a car speeding down a hill. In order to slow it down, you need to hit the brakes. In this case, the “brakes” are interest rate hikes intended to slow spending. However, some central banks are hitting the brakes faster than others.

    This graphic uses data from central banks and government websites to show how policy interest rates and inflation rates have changed since the start of the year. It was inspired by a chart created by Macrobond.

    How Do Interest Rate Hikes Combat Inflation?

    To understand how interest rates influence inflation, we need to understand how inflation works. Inflation is the result of too much money chasing too few goods. Over the last several months, this has occurred amid a surge in demand and supply chain disruptions worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    In an effort to combat inflation, central banks will raise their policy rate. This is the rate they charge commercial banks for loans or pay commercial banks for deposits. Commercial banks pass on a portion of these higher rates to their customers, which reduces the purchasing power of businesses and consumers. For example, it becomes more expensive to borrow money for a house or car.

    Ultimately, interest rate hikes act to slow spending and encourage saving. This motivates companies to increase prices at a slower rate, or lower prices, to stimulate demand.

    Rising Interest Rates and Inflation

    With inflation rates hitting multi-decade highs in some countries, many central banks have announced interest rate hikes. Below, we show how the inflation rate and policy interest rate have changed for select countries and regions since January 2022. The jurisdictions are ordered from highest to lowest current inflation rate.

    JurisdictionJan 2022 InflationMay 2022 InflationJan 2022 Policy RateJun 2022 Policy Rate
    UK5.50%9.10%0.25%1.25%
    U.S.7.50%8.60%0.00%-0.25%1.50%-1.75%
    Euro Area5.10%8.10%0.00%0.00%
    Canada5.10%7.70%0.25%1.50%
    Sweden3.90%7.20%0.00%0.25%
    New Zealand5.90%6.90%0.75%2.00%
    Norway3.20%5.70%0.50%1.25%
    Australia3.50%5.10%0.10%0.85%
    Switzerland1.60%2.90%-0.75%-0.25%
    Japan0.50%2.50%-0.10%-0.10%

    The Euro area has 3 policy rates; the data above represents the main refinancing operations rate. Inflation data is as of May 2022 except for New Zealand and Australia, where the latest quarterly data is as of March 2022.

    The U.S. Federal Reserve has been the most aggressive with its interest rate hikes. It has raised its policy rate by 1.5% since January, with half of that increase occurring at the June 2022 meeting. Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the committee would like to “do a little more front-end loading” to bring policy rates to normal levels. The action comes as the U.S. faces its highest inflation rate in 40 years.

    On the other hand, the European Union is experiencing inflation of 8.1% but has not yet raised its policy rate. The European Central Bank has, however, provided clear forward guidance. It intends to raise rates by 0.25% in July, by a possibly larger increment in September, and with gradual but sustained increases thereafter. Clear forward guidance is intended to help people make spending and investment decisions, and avoid surprises that could disrupt markets.

    Pacing Interest Rate Hikes

    Raising interest rates is a fine balancing act. If central banks raise rates too quickly, it’s like slamming the brakes on that car speeding downhill: the economy could come to a standstill. This occurred in the U.S. in the 1980’s when the Federal Reserve, led by Chair Paul Volcker, raised the policy rate to 20%. The economy went into a recession, though the aggressive monetary policy did eventually tame double digit inflation.

    However, if rates are raised too slowly, inflation could gather enough momentum that it becomes difficult to stop. The longer high price increases linger, the more future inflation expectations build. This can result in people buying more in anticipation of prices rising further, perpetuating high demand.

    “There’s always a risk of going too far or not going far enough, and it’s going to be a very difficult judgment to make.” — Jerome Powell, U.S. Federal Reserve Chair

    It’s worth noting that while central banks can influence demand through policy rates, this is only one side of the equation. Inflation is also being caused by supply chain issues, a problem that is more or less outside of the control of central banks.

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    3 Insights From the FED’s Latest Economic Snapshot

    Stay up to date on the U.S. economy with this infographic summarizing the most recent Federal Reserve data released.

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    us economic snapshot

    3 Insights From the Latest U.S. Economic Data

    Each month, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York publishes monthly economic snapshots.

    To make this report accessible to a wider audience, we’ve identified the three most important takeaways from the report and compiled them into one infographic.

    1. Growth figures in Q2 will make or break a recession

    Generally speaking, a recession begins when an economy exhibits two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth. Because U.S. GDP shrank by -1.5% in Q1 2022 (January to March), a lot rests on the Q2 figure (April to June) which should be released on July 28th.

    Referencing strong business activity and continued growth in consumer spending, economists predict that U.S. GDP will grow by +2.1% in Q2. This would mark a decisive reversal from Q1, and put an end to recessionary fears for the time being.

    Unfortunately, inflation is the top financial concern for Americans, and this is dampening consumer confidence. Shown below, the consumer confidence index reflects the public’s short-term outlook for income, business, and labor conditions.

    consumer price index 2005 to 2022

    Falling consumer confidence suggests that more people will delay big purchases such as cars, major appliances, and vacations.

    2. The COVID-era housing boom could be over

    Housing markets have been riding high since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but this run is likely coming to an end. Here’s a summary of what’s happened since 2020:

    • Lockdowns in early 2020 created lots of pent-up demand for homes
    • Greater household savings and record-low mortgage rates pushed demand even further
    • Supply chain disruptions greatly increased the cost of materials like lumber
    • Construction of new homes couldn’t keep up, and housing supply fell to historic lows

    Today, home prices are at record highs and the cost of borrowing is rapidly rising. For evidence, look no further than the 30-year fixed mortgage rate, which has doubled to more than 6% since the beginning of 2022.

    Given these developments, the drop in the number of home sales could be a sign that many Americans are being priced out of the market.

    3. Don’t expect groceries to become any cheaper

    Inflation has been a hot topic this year, especially with gas prices reaching $5 a gallon. But there’s one category of goods that’s perhaps even more alarming: food.

    The following table includes food inflation over the past three years, as the percent change over the past 12 months.

    DateCPI Food Component (%)
    2018-02-011.4%
    2019-05-012.0%
    2019-06-011.9%
    2019-07-011.8%
    2019-08-011.7%
    2019-09-011.8%
    2019-10-012.1%
    2019-11-012.0%
    2019-12-011.8%
    2020-01-011.8%
    2020-02-011.8%
    2020-03-011.9%
    2020-04-013.5%
    2020-05-014.0%
    2020-06-014.5%
    2020-07-014.1%
    2020-08-014.1%
    2020-09-014.0%
    2020-10-013.9%
    2020-11-013.7%
    2020-12-013.9%
    2021-01-013.8%
    2021-02-013.6%
    2021-03-013.5%
    2021-04-012.4%
    2021-05-012.1%
    2021-06-012.4%
    2021-07-013.4%
    2021-08-013.7%
    2021-09-014.6%
    2021-10-015.3%
    2021-11-016.1%
    2021-12-016.3%
    2022-01-017.0%
    2022-02-017.9%
    2022-03-018.8%
    2022-04-019.4%
    2022-05-0110.1%

    From this data, we can see that food inflation really picked up speed in April 2020, jumping to +3.5% from +1.9% in the previous month. This was due to supply chain disruptions and a sudden rebound in global demand.

    Fast forward to today, and food inflation is running rampant at 10.1%. A contributing factor is the impending fertilizer shortage, which stems from the Ukraine war. As it turns out, Russia is not only a massive exporter of oil, but wheat and fertilizer as well.

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