5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic
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5 Big Picture Trends Being Accelerated by the Pandemic

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As every email introduction has reminded us in 2020, we’re living in “unprecedented times”.

No doubt, even after a viable vaccine is released to the general public and things begin to return to some semblance of normalcy, there will be long lasting effects on society and the economy. It’s been said that COVID-19 has hit fast forward on a number of trends, from e-commerce to workplace culture.

Today, we’ll highlight five of these accelerating trends.

The following article uses charts and data from our new book Signals (hardcover, ebook) which covers the 27 macro trends transforming the global economy and markets. In some cases, where appropriate, we’ve added in the most recent projections and data.

#1: Screen Life Takes Hold

Smartphones have drastically altered many parts our lives – including how we spend time. In the decade from 2008 to 2018, screen time on mobile devices increased 12x.

increasing screen time

Fast forward to today, and screen time is up across the board, with some of the most dramatic increases seen among kids and teenagers. 44% of people under the age of 18 now report four hours or more of screen time per day – up from 21% prior to the pandemic.

Gaming is another digital segment that has benefited from the pandemic. Video game revenue spiked in the springtime, and sales have remained strong going further into 2020. Companies are hoping that casual gamers won over during lockdown will continue playing once the pandemic has come to an end.

gaming sales growth

Acceleration signal: International bandwidth and internet traffic was already increasing steadily, but COVID-19 stay-at-home activity has blown away previous numbers.

international internet traffic growth

Even as more workplaces and schools begin to operate normally again, it’s doubtful that screen time will drop back down to pre-COVID levels.

#2: The Big Consumer Shake-Up

The consumer economy has been innovating on two fronts: making physical buying as “frictionless” as possible, and making e-commerce as nimble as possible. COVID-19 broke old habits and sped up that evolution.

Innovations in real world shopping appear to be moving in the direction of cashierless checkouts, but in order for that model to work, people first need to embrace contactless payment methods such as mobile wallets and cards with tap payment.

So far, the pandemic has been an accelerant in moving people away from cash and pin-and-swipe credit cards in lagging markets. Once people get used to the convenience of contactless payments, it’s likely they’ll continue using those methods.

cashierless retail

Of course, no conversation about e-commerce is complete without talking about Amazon. The company has seen consistent growth in subscription revenue in recent years, and the company’s actions have a wide-reaching effect on the rest of the industry.

amazon revenue and speed

Much like the gaming industry, e-commerce companies like Amazon are hoping that people who dabbled with online ordering during the pandemic months, will convert into lifelong customers.

Acceleration signal: E-commerce penetration projections have shifted upward.

ecommerce forecast

In hindsight, 2020 could be an inflection point where e-commerce gained a much bigger slice of the overall retail pie.

#3: Peak Globalization

Globalization went on a tear starting from the mid-1980s until it hit a plateau during the financial crisis. Since that point, global trade as a percentage of GDP has flat-lined in the face of trade wars, and now COVID-19.

globalization plateau chart

Trade was obviously impacted by the pandemic, and it’s too early to say what the long-term effects will be. One thing that is clear is that the information component of globalization is becoming an even more important piece of the world’s economic puzzle.

globalization pillars

Even before COVID-19 took hold, the global services trade was growing 60% faster than the goods trade, and was valued at approximately $13.4 trillion in 2019.

Acceleration signal: The dip in merchandise trade looks eerily similar to the one that took place in 2008.

merchandise trade

#4: The Wealth Chasm

On the high end of the wealth spectrum, billionaires are worth more than ever.

billionaires compared with countries

Meanwhile, in the broader economy, inequality has grown over the last few decades. Those in the top 50% wealth bracket have seen increasing gains, while the bottom 50% have seen stagnation.

This issue is sure to be compounded by economic turmoil brought on by COVID-19. Younger generations face the dual challenges of being more likely to be negatively impacted by the pandemic, while also being the least likely to have savings to cover an interruption in income.

In fact, nearly half of people in the 18–24 year old age group have nothing saved at all.

financial impact of covid-19

The longer the economy is affected by COVID-19 measures, the more of a wedge will be driven between people who have continued working and those who are employed in impacted industries (e.g. tourism, events).

Acceleration signal: Growth in the net worth of billionaires has been largely unaffected by COVID-19.

billionaire wealth

#5: The Flexible Workplace

As of 2019, over half of companies that didn’t have a flexible or remote workplace policy cited “longstanding company policy” as the reason. In other words, that is just the way things have always worked.

Of course, the pandemic has forced many companies to rethink these policies.

remote work preferences

This grand experiment in remote work and distributed teams will have an impact on office life as we know it, potentially reshaping the entire “office economy”. The impact is already being felt, with global commercial property investment volume falling by 48% in Q3 2020.

Acceleration signal: Thousands of people are moving out of pricey urban areas, presumably because they are able to work remotely from a cheaper location.

migration from urban areas

If you like this post, find hundreds of charts
like this in our new book “Signals”:


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The Top Google Searches Related to Investing in 2022

What was on investors’ minds in 2022? Discover the top Google searches and how the dominant trends played out in portfolios.

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Trend lines showing when the top Google searches related to investing reached peak popularity over the course of 2022.
The following content is sponsored by New York Life Investments

The Top Google Searches Related to Investing in 2022

It was a turbulent year for the markets in 2022, with geopolitical conflict, rising prices, and the labor market playing key roles. Which stories captured investors’ attention the most? 

This infographic from New York Life Investments outlines the top Google searches related to investing in 2022, and offers a closer look at some of the trends.

Top Google Searches: Year in Review

We picked some of the top economic and investing stories that saw peak search interest in the U.S. each month, according to Google Trends.

Month of Peak InterestSearch Term
JanuaryGreat Resignation
FebruaryRussian Stock Market
MarchOil Price
April Housing Bubble
MayValue Investing
JuneBitcoin
JulyRecession
AugustInflation
SeptemberUS Dollar
OctoberOPEC
NovemberLayoffs
DecemberInterest Rate Forecast

Data based on exact searches in the U.S. from December 26, 2021 to December 18, 2022.

Let’s look at each quarter in more detail, to see how these top Google searches were related to activity in the economy and investors’ portfolios.

Q1 2022

The start of the year was marked by U.S. workers quitting their jobs in record numbers, and the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war. For instance, the price of crude oil skyrocketed after the war caused supply uncertainties. Early March’s peak of $125 per barrel was a 13-year high.

DateClosing Price of WTI Crude Oil
(USD/Barrel)
January 2, 2022$76
March 3, 2022$125
December 29, 2022$80

While crude oil lost nearly all its gains by year-end, the energy sector in general performed well. In fact, the S&P 500 Energy Index gained 57% over the year compared to the S&P 500’s 19% loss.

Q2 2022

The second quarter of 2022 saw abnormal house price growth, renewed interest in value investing, and a bitcoin crash. In particular, value investing performed much better than growth investing over the course of the year.

IndexPrice Return in 2022
S&P 500 Value Index-7.4%
S&P 500 Growth Index-30.1%

Value stocks have typically outperformed during periods of rising rates, and 2022 was no exception.

Q3 2022

The third quarter was defined by worries about a recession and inflation, along with interest in the rising U.S. dollar. In fact, the U.S. dollar gained against nearly every major currency.

Currency USD Appreciation Against Currency
(Dec 31 2020-Sep 30 2022)
Japanese Yen40.1%
Chinese Yuan9.2%
Euro25.1%
Canadian Dollar7.2%
British Pound22.0%
Australian Dollar18.1%

Higher interest rates made the U.S. dollar more attractive to investors, since it meant they would get a higher return on their fixed income investments.

Q4 2022

The end of the year was dominated by OPEC cutting oil production, high layoffs in the tech sector, and curiosity about the future of interest rates. The Federal Reserve’s December 2022 economic projections offer clues about the trajectory of the policy rate.

 202320242025Longer Run
Minimum Projection4.9%3.1%2.4%2.3%
Median Projection5.1%4.1%3.1%2.5%
Maximum Projection5.6%5.6%5.6%3.3%

The Federal Reserve expects interest rates to peak in 2023, with rates to remain elevated above pre-pandemic levels for the foreseeable future.

The Top Google Searches to Come

After a year of volatility across asset classes, economic uncertainty remains. Which themes will become investors’ top Google searches in 2023?

Find out how New York Life Investments can help you make sense of market trends.

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