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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    Technology

    Ranked: Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During the First Half of 2021

    Big Tech is worth trillions, but what are insiders doing with their stock? We breakdown Big Tech CEO insider trading during the first half of 2021.

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    Big Tech CEO Insider Trading During The First Half of 2021

    When CEOs of major companies are selling their shares, investors can’t help but notice.

    After all, these decisions have a direct effect on the personal wealth of these insiders, which can say plenty about their convictions with respect to the future direction of the companies they run.

    Considering that Big Tech stocks are some of the most popular holdings in today’s portfolios, and are backed by a collective $5.3 trillion in institutional investment, how do the CEOs of these organizations rank by their insider selling?

    CEOStockShares Sold H1 2021Value of Shares ($M)
    Jeff BezosAmazon (AMZN)2.0 million$6,600
    Mark ZuckerbergFacebook (FB)7.1 million$2,200
    Satya NadellaMicrosoft (MSFT)278,694
    $65
    Sundar PichaiGoogle (GOOGL)27,000$62
    Tim CookApple (AAPL)0$0

    Breaking Down Insider Trading, by CEO

    Let’s dive into the insider trading activity of each Big Tech CEO:

    Jeff Bezos

    During the first half of 2021, Jeff Bezos sold 2 million shares of Amazon worth $6.6 billion.

    This activity was spread across 15 different transactions, representing an average of $440 million per transaction. Altogether, this ranks him first by CEO insider selling, by total dollar proceeds. Bezos’s time as CEO of Amazon came to an end shortly after the half way mark for the year.

    Mark Zuckerberg

    In second place is Mark Zuckerberg, who has been significantly busier selling than the rest.

    In the first half of 2021, he unloaded 7.1 million shares of Facebook onto the open market, worth $2.2 billion. What makes these transactions interesting is the sheer quantity of them, as he sold on 136 out of 180 days. On average, that’s $12 million worth of stock sold every day.

    Zuckerberg’s record year of selling in 2018 resulted in over $5 billion worth of stock sold, but over 90% of his net worth still remains in the company.

    Satya Nadella

    Next is Satya Nadella, who sold 278,694 shares of Microsoft, worth $234 million. Despite this, the Microsoft CEO still holds an estimated 1.6 million shares, which is the largest of any insider.

    Microsoft’s stock has been on a tear for a number of years now, and belongs to an elite trillion dollar club, which consists of only six public companies.

    Sundar Pichai

    Fourth on the list is Sundar Pichai who has been at the helm at Google for six years now. Since the start of 2021, he’s sold 27,000 shares through nine separate transactions, worth $62.5 million. However, Pichai still has an estimated 6,407 Class A and 114,861 Class C shares.

    Google is closing in on a $2 trillion valuation and is the best performing Big Tech stock, with shares rising 60% year-to-date. Their market share growth from U.S. ad revenues is a large contributing factor.

    Tim Cook

    Last, is Tim Cook, who just surpassed a decade as Apple CEO.

    During this time, shares have rallied over 1,000% and annual sales have gone from $100 billion to $347 billion. That said, Cook has sold 0 shares of Apple during the first half of 2021. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t sold shares elsewhere, though. Cook also sits on the board of directors for Nike, and has sold $6.9 million worth of shares this year.

    Measuring Insider Selling

    All things equal, it’s desirable for management to have skin in the game, and be invested alongside shareholders. It can also be seen as aligning long-term interests.

    A good measure of insider selling activity is in relation to the existing stake in the company. For example, selling $6.6 billion worth of shares may sound like a lot, but when there are 51.7 million Amazon shares remaining for Jeff Bezos, it actually represents a small portion and is probably not cause for panic.

    If, however, executives are disclosing large transactions relative to their total stakes, it might be worth digging deeper.

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    Markets

    This Simple Chart Reveals the Distribution Of Global Wealth

    Global wealth at the end of 2020 was about $418 trillion. Here’s a breakdown of the global wealth distribution among the adult population.

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    The Global Wealth Distribution in One Chart

    The pandemic resulted in global wealth taking a significant dip in the first part of 2020. By the end of March, global household wealth had already declined by around 4.4%.

    Interestingly, after much monetary and fiscal stimulus from governments around the world, global household wealth was more than able to recover, finishing up the year at $418.3 trillion, a 7.4% gain from the previous year.

    Using data from Credit Suisse, this graphic looks at how global wealth is distributed among the adult population.

    How is Global Wealth Distributed?

    While individuals worth more than $1 million constitute just 1.1% of the world’s population, they hold 45.8% of global wealth.

    Wealth RangeWealthGlobal Share (%)Adult Population
    Over $1M$191.6 trillion45.8%Held by 1.1%
    $100k-$1M$163.9 trillion39.1%Held by 11.1%
    $10k-$100k$57.3 trillion13.7%Held by 32.8%
    Less than $10k$5.5 trillion1.3%Held by 55.0%
    Total$418.3 trillion100.0%Held by 100.0%

    On the other end of the spectrum, 55% of the population owns only 1.3% of global wealth.

    And between these two extreme wealth distribution cases, the rest of the world’s population has a combined 52.8% of the wealth.

    Global Wealth Distribution by Region

    While wealth inequality is especially evident within the wealth ranges mentioned above, these differences can also be seen on a more regional basis between countries.

    In 2020, total wealth rose by $12.4 trillion in North America and $9.2 trillion in Europe. These two regions accounted for the bulk of the wealth gains, with China adding another $4.2 trillion and the Asia-Pacific region (excluding China and India) another $4.7 trillion.

    Here is a breakdown of global wealth distribution by region:

    RegionTotal Wealth
    (US$B)
    Change in Total Wealth
    (US$B)
    Change %Wealth Per Adult
    (US$B)
    Change %
    North America136,31612,37010.0486,9309.1
    Europe103,2139,1799.8174,8369.8
    Asia-Pacific75,2774,6946.760,7905.0
    China74,8844,2466.067,7715.4
    India12,833-594-4.414,252-6.1
    Latin America10,872-1,215-10.124,301-11.4
    Africa4,946360.77,371-2.1
    World418,34228,7167.479,9526.0

    India and Latin America both recorded losses in 2020.

    Total wealth fell in India by $594 billion, or 4.4%. Meanwhile, Latin America appears to have been the worst-performing region, with total wealth dropping by 11.4% or $1.2 trillion.

    Post-COVID Global Outlook 2020-2025

    Despite the burden of COVID-19 on the global economy, the world can expect robust GDP growth in the coming years, especially in 2021. The latest estimates by the International Monetary Fund in April 2021 suggest that global GDP in 2021 will total $100.1 trillion in nominal terms, up by 4.1% compared to last year.

    The link in normal times between GDP growth and household wealth growth, combined with the expected rapid return of economic activity to its pre-pandemic levels, suggests that global wealth could grow again at a fast pace. According to Credit Suisse estimates, global wealth may rise by 39% over the next five years.

    Low and middle-income countries will also play an essential role in the coming year. They are responsible for 42% of the growth, even though they account for just 33% of current wealth.

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