Who Got It Right? A Look Back at Expert Predictions For 2021
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Who Got It Right? A Look Back at Expert Predictions For 2021

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Last year, the editorial team at Visual Capitalist scoured through 200+ reports, articles, podcasts, and more, to create our 2021 Prediction Consensus—a big picture and aggregated look at the key trends that experts predict for the year ahead.

If 2021 taught us anything, it’s that things can change at the drop of the hat. Amidst all this uncertainty, how many of the highlighted predictions came to fruition, and which ones didn’t pan out exactly as expected?

Before we start, it’s worth revisiting the prediction bingo board for 2021:

2021 predictions consensus

Below, we’ve evaluated a handful of the predictions for 2021 to determine whether or not they actually materialized.

The Easy-to-Quantify Predictions for 2021

Some of the predictions were easy to quantify—like the price of Bitcoin, or GDP targets.

Prediction 1:

Bitcoin hits the $50,000 mark

Did it happen? Yes

As many of the experts forecasted, Bitcoin, and the crypto space in general, had another explosive year in 2021.

bitcoin price 50k 2021

Bitcoin’s price rose 72%—from $29,000 at the start of 2021 to roughly $50,000 today (after reaching an all-time high of $69,000 in November).

The price increase wasn’t without its fair share of volatility, with Bitcoin suffering three different pullbacks of at least 30%, the greatest being a 50% correction in May.

Bitcoin’s ascent is impressive considering the amount of attention and capital that poured into other cryptocurrencies and sectors in the space. Layer one blockchains like Ethereum (+483% in 2021) and Solana (+12,500% in 2021) greatly outpaced bitcoin’s price growth, and NFTs emerged as one of the hottest markets this year.

Prediction 2:

Global GDP grows 5-6%

Did it happen? Yes

By the end of 2021, Euromonitor International expects global real GDP to increase by 5.7%, which aligns perfectly with expert predictions from last year.

However, despite the global economy’s overall growth, this year hasn’t come without its challenges.

Supply chain issues have triggered a rise in global commodity prices. And since supply constraints are likely to continue into 2022 or beyond, global inflation is expected to keep rising, which could create a drag on real GDP growth.

Prediction 3:

Positive growth for small cap stocks

Did it happen? Yes

The S&P Small Cap 600 Index generated a return of 24.6% from December 31, 2020, to December 7, 2021. This mimics the performance of the S&P 500 Index, which grew by 24.8% over the same time period.

sp 500 small cap index 2021

Many analysts expect U.S. small caps to continue their momentum into 2022. Historically, the asset class enjoys significant gains during times of robust economic growth.

For context, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects U.S. GDP to grow by 5.2% in 2022, outpacing many other developed economies.

The Harder-to-Quantify Predictions

Many of the predictions were more subjective than GDP or stock-market growth, and therefore, were harder to measure. So, for these predictions, we polled nine members of our editorial team to gauge whether or not they panned out as expected.

We also sifted through hundreds of individual predictions from last year to see which experts got it right, and we’ll be highlighting some of them below.

Let’s dive in.

Prediction 4:

ESG reaches a tipping point in 2021

vc staff vote esg funds

ESG continued its upward trajectory in 2021.

In Q3 2021 alone, the number of sustainable funds jumped 51% to roughly 7,500 worldwide, and assets under management hit a record $3.9 trillion. In the U.S., sustainable fund assets surpassed the $300B mark.

esg investment growth 2021

As sustainable investing continues to become a top priority among investors, companies are starting to be held accountable for their sustainability efforts. And those that don’t get on board could see it negatively affect their bottom line.

Who saw this coming? DWS Asset Management Group said, “ESG will continue to play an increasingly important role in investing.” Fidelity Investments, an American financial services company also got it right, claiming “ESG and climate funds have outperformed conventional funds throughout 2020 and are likely to continue to do so in 2021.”

Prediction 5:

Work from home is here to stay

vc staff vote work from home

Even as lockdown restrictions eased, and the world took small steps towards normalcy, workers across the globe continued to work from home.

By the end of the year, Gartner predicts that 51% of knowledge workers worldwide will be working remotely, up from 27% in 2019.

remote work in 2021

Luckily, remote work hasn’t seemed to have a negative impact on employee engagement. In fact, a recent Gallup survey found that 36% of American respondents felt engaged at work, a near all-time high.

Who predicted this? Forrester did: “Hybrid work models will become the norm for information workers.” Blue Frontier also predicted this, “Most companies will employ a hybrid work model, with fewer people in the office and more full-time remote employees.”

Prediction 6:

SPACs will fall out of favor

vc staff vote fall of spacs

Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) waned in 2021—despite a strong start to the year. The market for “blank check” companies peaked in March of 2021, when a record 109 SPACs were issued.

spac issuance 2021

The SEC cracked down on accounting practices, and Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the House Financial Services Committee remarked she had “deep concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability that is a hallmark of the SPAC process”.

However, blank check firms haven’t disappeared completely. Singaporean startup, Grab launched on the Nasdaq in late 2021, reaching a roughly $40 billion valuation—a record according to data from Dealogic. As well, issuance is creeping back upward, a sign that the SPAC market could be staging a comeback.

Who saw this coming? John Battelle, co-founder of Wired Magazine, wrote “In 2021, SPACs will lose their luster.”

Prediction 7:

China will have a strong 2021

vc staff vote china economy

China had an impressive first half of the year, but growth slowed down by Q3.

Interestingly, it wasn’t so much COVID-19 that ended up hurting the Chinese economy. Rather, the country struggled with supply chain issues, along with a drastic regulation crackdown by the CCP that ended up hamstringing domestic industries.

Investors were so spooked by the Chinese government’s crackdown, that from Oct 2020 to Oct 2021, investors sold more than $1 trillion in Chinese equities.

Who got this right? James McGregor, China chair of public affairs firm APCO Worldwide, said that “China is going to be ahead of everyone economically, however, its global reputation is not going to improve.”

Prediction 8:

Big Tech backlash will continue

vc staff vote big tech backlash

From congressional hearings to massive fines, the tech backlash continued into 2021.

Big Tech CEOs were hauled before the U.S. government numerous times, including the misinformation hearings of May 2021 and the antitrust hearing in July. Tech companies also faced a rough ride in Europe as regulators didn’t hesitate to hand out hefty fines. In just two examples, WhatsApp was hit with a €225 million fine and forced to make changes to its privacy policy, and Amazon was fined over €1.1 billion by Italy’s antitrust watchdog for abusing its dominant market position.

While Big Tech in general faced plenty of criticism, it was Facebook (now Meta) that bore the brunt of the scorn. This was especially the case after former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked thousands of internal documents to the Wall Street Journal, which Haugen claimed shows that the company prioritizes profits over the wellbeing of its users. The pressure is on for U.S. lawmakers to enact new regulations that hold social media companies more accountable, but decisions on what these new regulations would look like haven’t been made.

In contrast, European regulators have managed to get a plan in motion. The EU plans on enacting the Digital Services Act by 2022, which would require tech companies to immediately remove hate speech and other illegal content from their platforms, or pay significant fines.

Facebook users growth

Two powerful counterpoints to the bluster directed at tech companies are that stock prices are largely up and users still continue to use these services. Even Facebook, which is arguably the most heavily-criticized brand has never seen a drop in users, quarter-on-quarter.

Who predicted this? John Battelle saw this one coming, too: “Nothing will get done on tech regulation in the US.”

Prediction 9:

Millennials answer the call of the suburbs

vc staff vote millennials suburbs

Millennials did move away from the city, but not so much to the suburbs. Rather, small towns and rural areas saw the most growth as people streamed away from large, expensive cities.

As people migrated from cities, businesses followed suit. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, urban centers in America experienced a net migration loss (meaning more businesses left the area than moved in) while small towns and rural areas in the U.S. experienced a net migration gain.

Who saw this coming? Joe Tyrrell, president, ICE Mortgage Technology “People are shifting away from metropolitan areas to more rural ones. We expect this migration trend to continue as people redefine what home means for them.”

What’s in Store for 2022?

We publish our annual Predictions Consensus to give readers a big-picture understanding of what experts predict for the coming year.

With supply chain issues, climate woes, and geopolitical tensions continuing to simmer, 2022 is set to be just as uncertain as 2021 was. To help prep you for another turbulent year, keep an eye out for our 2022 Predictions Consensus, which will be published in early January.

Want extra insight into 2022?

Global Forecast 2022

Sign up for VC+ to gain access to our 2022 Global Forecast series

The following members of the VC editorial staff contributed to this article: Nick Routley, Carmen Ang, Niccolo Conte, Marcus Lu, Dorothy Neufeld, Katie Jones, Omri Wallach, Jeff Desjardins, and Raul Amoros.

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Visualizing America’s Electric Vehicle Future

The U.S. is accelerating its transition to electric vehicles but obtaining the minerals and metals required for EVs remains a challenge. In this infographic, we explore America’s transportation future.

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Visualizing America’s Electric Vehicle Future

The U.S. is accelerating its transition to electric vehicles (EV) to address climate change. However, obtaining the minerals and metals required for EV batteries remains a challenge.

In this infographic from Talon Metals and Li-Cycle, we explore the country’s strategy to have vehicles, batteries, and key parts be made in the United States.

Then, we look at how this strategy could be fueled by domestic mining and battery recycling.

The All-Electric America

Gasoline-powered cars are one of the biggest sources of carbon pollution driving the climate crisis. As a result, the Biden Administration has set a target for EVs to make up 50% of all new car sales in the U.S. by 2030. Today, fewer than 1% of the country’s 250 million vehicles are electric.

In November 2021, Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, which includes:

  • Replacing the government’s 650,000 vehicle motor pool with EVs.
  • Electrifying 20% of the country’s 500,000 school buses.
  • Investing $7.5 billion to build out a network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers across the country.

The idea also has popular support. According to a poll, 55% of voters in the U.S. support requiring all new cars sold in their state to be electric starting in 2030.

However, rising EV sales are already driving demand for battery metals such as nickel, lithium, and copper, threatening to trigger a shortage of these key raw materials. So, does the U.S. have the raw materials needed to meet this rising demand?

Currently, the U.S. is import-dependent with large parts of the battery supply chain captured by China. Likewise, some essential metals for EVs are currently extracted from countries that have poor labor standards and high CO2 footprints.

Nickel in the Land of Opportunity

The Biden Administration’s 100-day review of critical supply chains recommended the government should prioritize investing in nickel processing capability.

Today, the only operating nickel mine in the U.S., the Eagle Mine in Michigan, ships its concentrates abroad for refining and is scheduled to close in 2025.

To fill the supply gap, Talon Metals is developing the Tamarack Nickel Project in Minnesota, the only high-grade development-stage nickel mine in the country. Tesla has recently signed an agreement to purchase 75,000 metric tonnes of nickel in concentrate from Tamarack.

Since the development and construction of a mine can take many years, recycling is considered an essential source of raw material for EVs.

The Role of Battery Recycling

Battery recycling could meet up to 30% of nickel and 80% of cobalt usage in electric vehicles by the end of the decade.

The bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill already sets aside $6 billion for developing battery materials processing capacity in the United States.

By 2030, the U.S. alone is projected to have more than 218,000 tonnes of EV battery manufacturing scrap and 313,000 tonnes of end-of-life EV batteries per year, presenting a massive opportunity for recycling. Currently, Li-Cycle, a leading lithium-ion battery recycler in North America, can process up to 10,000 tonnes of battery material per year—and this capacity is set to grow to up to 30,000 tonnes by the end of 2022.

Li-Cycle also has a hydrometallurgy refinement hub under construction in Rochester, New York, which will process up to the equivalent of 225,000 EV batteries annually into battery-grade lithium, nickel, and cobalt when it is operational in 2023.

America’s Electric Vehicle Future

The auto industry’s future “is electric, and there’s no turning back,” according to President Biden. It’s expected that EV sales in the U.S. will grow from around 500,000 vehicles in 2021 to over 4 million in 2030.

With rising government support and consumers embracing electric vehicles, securing the supply of the materials necessary for the EV revolution will remain a top priority for the country.

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Retirement Spending: How Much Do Americans Plan to Spend Annually?

Retirement expenses can vary significantly from person to person. In this graphic, we show the range of expected retirement spending.

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Retirement Spending

Americans’ Expected Annual Retirement Spending

Planning for retirement can be a daunting task. How much money will you need? What will your retirement spending look like?

It varies from person to person, based on factors like your health, outstanding expenses, and desired lifestyle. One helpful trick is to break it down into how much you estimate you’ll spend each year.

In this graphic from Personal Capital, we show the expected annual retirement spending of Americans. It’s the last in a three-part series that explores Americans’ spending and savings.

The Range of Retirement Spending

To determine how much people expect to spend, we used anonymized data from users of Personal Capital’s retirement planning tool. It’s worth noting that these users are proactive regarding financial planning. They also have a median net worth of $829,000 compared to the $122,000 median net worth of the U.S. population overall.

Here is the range of expected annual retirement spending.

Expected Annual Retirement SpendingPercent of People
$10K1.3%
$20K3.3%
$30K7.5%
$40K9.8%
$50K5.2%
$60K12.7%
$70K10.2%
$80K6.4%
$90K9.1%
$100K5.4%
$110K1.5%
$120K9.7%
$130K1.5%
$140K2.8%
$150K2.2%
$160K0.9%
$170K0.4%
$180K2.7%
$190K0.7%
$200K0.8%
$210K0.5%
$220K0.2%
$230K0.1%
$240K1.6%
$250K0.3%
$260K0.2%
$270K0.1%
$280K0.1%
$290K0.1%
$300K0.7%
Over $300K2.1%

Users are a mix of single individuals and people in a relationship. In all cases, expected retirement spending is what the household expects to spend annually.

The most commonly-cited expected spending amount is $60,000. Interestingly, this is roughly in line with what Americans spend annually on their credit cards. This suggests that people may be using their current bills to help gauge their future retirement spending.

Median spending, or the middle value when spending is ordered from lowest to highest, falls at $70,000. However, average spending is a fair amount higher at $100,000. This is because the average is calculated by adding up all the expected retirement spending amounts and dividing by the total number of users. Higher expected spending amounts, some in excess of $300,000 per year, skew the average calculation upwards.

Of course, given their higher net worth, it’s perhaps not surprising that many Personal Capital users expect to spend larger amounts in retirement. How does this compare to the general population? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans age 65 and older spend about $48,000 per year on average.

Chances of Retirement Success

Once you’ve determined how much you’ll spend in retirement, your next step may be to wonder if your savings are on track. Based on an assessment of Personal Capital retirement planner users, here is the breakdown of people’s chance of success.

Retirement Spending Chance of Success

The good news: more than half of people have an 80% or better chance of meeting their retirement spending goals. This means they have sufficient financial assets and are contributing enough, regularly enough, to meet their expected spending amount. The not so good news: one in five people has a less than 50% chance of meeting their goals.

This problem is even more troublesome in the overall U.S. population. Only 50% of people have a retirement account, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College estimates half of today’s workers are unprepared for retirement.

Setting Your Own Retirement Spending Goals

While seeing the goals of others is a starting point, your annual retirement spending will be very specific to you. Not sure where to start?

Financial planners typically recommend that you should plan on needing 70-80% of your pre-retirement income in retirement. This is because people generally no longer have certain expenses, such as commuting or childcare costs, when they retire. However, keep in mind your expenses could be higher if you still have a mortgage, encounter unforeseen medical expenses, or want to splurge on things like travel when you retire.

It requires some upfront planning, but being realistic about your retirement spending can give you confidence in your financial future.

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