Prediction Consensus: What Experts See Coming in 2020
Through the ages, humans have feared uncertainty. We’ve searched for clues in everything from entrails to tea leaves to the arrangement of heavenly bodies in the night sky.
In the modern era, data and media are the new magic 8-ball. The jury is still out on whether we’ve gotten any better at anticipating the forces that will shape the coming year, but that certainly hasn’t stopped people from trying.
Of the hundreds of forward-looking pieces of content published in the lead-up to 2020, how many of the expert predictions lined up? Was there a consensus on any particular trend, or were predictions all over the map?
During the month of December we analyzed over 100 articles, whitepapers, and interviews to answer that question. While there was no firm consensus on where 2020 will take us, there were a few themes that appeared in multiple publications. Today’s graphic highlights these reappearing predictions, and below, we examine seven of them in more detail.
The Promise and Controversy of 5G
One technology that’s sure to capture the headlines in 2020 is 5G. Broadband speeds of over one gigabit per second will become a reality when 5G technology rolls out across the country, without the cable that currently connects most homes. This prediction is a slam dunk, as some carriers are already testing the technology in select neighborhoods around the United States.
Experts also predict that a wave of 5G-enabled smartphone and IoT products will become commercially available in 2020.
The wild card in this 5G story will be guessing which companies end up building out the new network. Huawei was in a strong position to lead the charge, but the company has been stonewalled in a number countries – most notably the United States, Australia, and Japan. Whether due to national security concerns or protectionism, Chinese companies may continue to face an uphill battle in Western markets.
Fake News 2.0
While many predictions for 2020 were fueled by excitement for new technologies, there was one that was decidedly more ominous – the proliferation of deepfakes. Simply put, deepfakes are videos that harness artificial intelligence to create a convincing likeness of a real person.
With the U.S. presidential election just around the corner, many experts fear that deepfakes are going to do serious damage, manipulating public opinion on both sides of the political spectrum. Unlike fake news, which often comes with obvious visual cues to help determine authenticity, even deepfakes created using free online tools are extremely convincing. If predictions come true, the lead-up to the U.S. election could be a wild ride.
Consumerism in Flux
The late 2010’s were a turbulent time for retail. The rise of ecommerce and shifting consumer preferences combined to cause a “retailpocalypse”, and many brands are still struggling to evolve their brick and mortar strategy to compete in an Amazon Prime world. Experts are predicting new evolutions for physical stores that are powered by technology instead of human employees.
The incarnation of this approach that will likely garner the most attention will be the next wave of cashierless Amazon Go locations opening in cities around the country.
Experts also predict that brands will mimic the example of Amazon’s Whole Foods, and incorporate online order pick-up locations within their physical stores. Increasingly, the line between ecommerce and traditional retail is blurring.
The Cookie Begins to Crumble
In 2019, approximately $330 billion was spent on digital advertising, but privacy regulations such as GDPR and the CCPA – California’s new privacy law – are causing massive disruption and upheaval in this industry.
For many years, the humble internet cookie has done the heavy lifting in collecting your personal data from online activity. This data is what advertisers use to reach you as you scroll Instagram or read articles online. Already, changes to Safari and Firefox wiped out about 40% of all third-party cookies, and in a world where people need to physically click a button on each site to allow cookies, it’s unclear how viable the technology will be as privacy measures are enacted.
The Call of the Picket Fence
One of main predictions going into 2020 is that starter homes will be a leading category in new home builds. For millions of millennials around the country in the rental market, a starter home – the first residence a person or family can afford to purchase, often using a combination of savings and mortgage financing – will begin to look more appealing.
Rent in American cities has been marching upward for nearly a decade, and the promise of more space and entry into the home ownership market may lure more of this generational cohort to the suburbs.
Also on the topic of real estate, a few experts noted that even if there is an economic downturn in 2020, the housing market is unlikely to take a big hit.
All Eyes on IPOs
Despite experiencing a rough patch in 2019, SoftBank and its gargantuan Vision Fund will remain one of the most powerful forces in Silicon Valley this year. Masayoshi Son, Softbank’s enigmatic CEO, appears to have adopted a more pragmatic approach, citing a company’s “ability to turn a profit in the future” as a yardstick of evaluating the value of an investment.
Experts predict that in light of the very public PR disasters of unicorns Uber and WeWork, investors will be much more skeptical of high-valuation IPOs.
In 2020, more companies are predicted to opt for a direct listing to go public.
What Goes Up?
When the ball dropped to usher in 2019, market sentiment was leaning toward an impending recession. A year later, the economic expansion is still underway, and many experts now have a more positive outlook for 2020.
The majority of predictions we analyzed foresaw a year of continued job growth and modest gains in the stock market. Here’s a look at S&P 500 end target predictions from some of Wall Street’s top strategists:
The Elephant in the Oval
One prediction nobody seemed particularly keen to make was on the result of the impending U.S. presidential election.
Experts are likely happy to take a wait-and-see approach until the Democratic nominee is announced. Also looming in the back of people’s minds might be the memory of 2016, which was a powerful reminder that even predictions that seem like a sure thing don’t always pan out as expected.
[Experts] can’t predict the markets with any useful consistency, any more than the gizzard squeezers could tell the Roman emperors when the Huns would attack.
– Peter Lynch
A note on methodology: To make sure we captured a robust cross section of predictions for the coming year, we spent the month of December tracking down and analyzing hundreds of articles, whitepapers, and interviews from respected sources. For this exercise, we chose to focus on four broad, interconnected themes – the economy, consumerism, real estate, and technology. In the end, we analyzed 100+ published pieces, and captured 150+ predictions. We focused on content from media publications in Comscore’s top 100, major banks and consultancies, and brands and agencies with high-quality thought leadership. In the end, we highlighted the 25 predictions that appeared the most often.
How China Overtook the U.S. as the World’s Major Trading Partner
China has become the world’s major trading partner – and now, 128 of 190 countries trade more with China than they do with the United States.
How China Overtook the U.S. As the World’s Trade Partner
In 2018, trade accounted for 59% of global GDP, up nearly 1.5 times since 1980.
Over this timeframe, international trade has transformed significantly—not just in terms of volume and composition, but also in terms of the countries that the rest of the world leans on for their most important trade relationships.
Now, a critical shift is occurring in the landscape, and it may surprise you to learn that China has already usurped the U.S. as the world’s most dominant trading partner.
Trading Places: A Global Shift
Today’s animation comes from the Lowy Institute, and it pulls data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) database on bilateral trade flows, to determine whether the U.S. or China is a bigger trading partner for each country from 1980 to 2018.
The results are stark: before 2000, the U.S. was at the helm of global trade, as over 80% of countries traded with the U.S. more than they did with China. By 2018, that number had dropped sharply to just 30%, as China swiftly took top position in 128 of 190 countries.
The researchers pinpoint China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization as a major turning point in China’s international trade relationships. The dramatic shift that followed is clearly demonstrated in the visualization above—between 2005 and 2010, a number of countries tipped towards Chinese influence, especially in Africa and Asia.
Over time, China’s dominance has grown dramatically. It’s no wonder then, that China and the U.S. have a contentious trade relationship themselves, as both nations battle it out for first place.
A Tale of Two Economies
The United States and China are competitors in many ways, but to be successful they must rely on each other for mutually beneficial trade. However, it’s also the major issue on which they are struggling to reach a common ground.
The U.S. has been vocal about negotiating more balanced trade agreements with China. In fact, a mid-2018 poll shows that 62% of Americans consider their trade relationship with China to be unfair.
Since 2018, both parties have faced a fraught relationship, imposing major tariffs on consumer and industrial goods—and retaliations are reaching greater and greater heights:
While a delicate truce has been reached at the moment, the trade war has caused a significant drag on global growth, and the World Bank estimates it will continue to have an effect into 2021.
At the same time, China’s sphere of influence continues to grow.
One Belt, One Road, One Trade Direction?
China seems to have a finger in every pie. The nation is financing a flurry of megaprojects across Asia and Africa—but one broader initiative stands above the rest.
China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) Initiative, planned for a 2049 completion, is advancing at a furious pace. In 2019 alone, Chinese companies signed contracts worth up to $128 billion to start Chinese large-scale infrastructure projects in various countries.
While building new highways and ports abroad is beneficial for Chinese financiers, OBOR is also about creating new markets and trade routes for Chinese goods in Asia. Recent research found that the OBOR program’s infrastructure expansion and logistics performance improvements led to positive effects on China’s exports.
Nevertheless, it’s clear the new infrastructure network is already transforming global trade, possibly cementing China’s position as the world’s major trading partner for years to come.
Visualizing the Biggest Risks to the Global Economy in 2020
The Global Risk Report 2020 paints an unprecedented risk landscape for 2020—one dominated by climate change and other environmental concerns.
Top Risks in 2020: Dominated by Environmental Factors
Environmental concerns are a frequent talking point drawn upon by politicians and scientists alike, and for good reason. Irrespective of economic or social status, climate change has the potential to affect us all.
While public urgency surrounding climate action has been growing, it can be difficult to comprehend the potential extent of economic disruption that environmental risks pose.
Front and Center
Today’s chart uses data from the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Report, which surveyed 800 leaders from business, government, and non-profits to showcase the most prominent economic risks the world faces.
According to the data in the report, here are the top five risks to the global economy, in terms of their likelihood and potential impact:
|Top Global Risks (by "Likelihood")||Top Global Risks (by "Impact")|
|#1||Extreme weather||#1||Climate action failure|
|#2||Climate action failure||#2||Weapons of mass destruction|
|#3||Natural disasters||#3||Biodiversity loss|
|#4||Biodiversity loss||#4||Extreme weather|
|#5||Humanmade environmental disasters||#5||Water crises|
With more emphasis being placed on environmental risks, how much do we need to worry?
According to the World Economic Forum, more than we can imagine. The report asserts that, among many other things, natural disasters are becoming more intense and more frequent.
While it can be difficult to extrapolate precisely how environmental risks could cascade into trouble for the global economy and financial system, here are some interesting examples of how they are already affecting institutional investors and the insurance industry.
The Stranded Assets Dilemma
If the world is to stick to its 2°C global warming threshold, as outlined in the Paris Agreement, a significant amount of oil, gas, and coal reserves would need to be left untouched. These assets would become “stranded”, forfeiting roughly $1-4 trillion from the world economy.
Growing awareness of this risk has led to a change in sentiment. Many institutional investors have become wary of their portfolio exposures, and in some cases, have begun divesting from the sector entirely.
The financial case for fossil fuel divestment is strong. Fossil fuel companies once led the economy and world stock markets. They now lag.
– Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis
The last couple of years have been a game-changer for the industry’s future prospects. For example, 2018 was a milestone year in fossil fuel divestment:
- Nearly 1,000 institutional investors representing $6.24 trillion in assets have pledged to divest from fossil fuels, up from just $52 billion four years ago;
- Ireland became the first country to commit to fossil fuel divestment. At the time of announcement, its sovereign development fund had $10.4 billion in assets;
- New York City became the largest (but not the first) city to commit to fossil fuel divestment. Its pension funds, totaling $189 billion at the time of announcement, aim to divest over a 5-year period.
A Tough Road Ahead
In a recent survey, actuaries ranked climate change as their top risk for 2019, ahead of damages from cyberattacks, financial instability, and terrorism—drawing strong parallels with the results of this year’s Global Risk Report.
These growing concerns are well-founded. 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters, with $344 billion in global economic losses. This daunting figure translated to a record year for insured losses, totalling $140 billion.
Although insured losses over 2019 have fallen back in line with the average over the past 10 years, Munich RE believes that long-term environmental effects are already being felt:
- Recent studies have shown that over the long term, the environmental conditions for bushfires in Australia have become more favorable;
- Despite a decrease in U.S. wildfire losses compared to previous years, there is a rising long-term trend for forest area burned in the U.S.;
- An increase in hailstorms, as a result of climate change, has been shown to contribute to growing losses across the globe.
The Ball Is In Our Court
It’s clear that the environmental issues we face are beginning to have a larger real impact. Despite growing awareness and preliminary actions such as fossil fuel divestment, the Global Risk Report stresses that there is much more work to be done to mitigate risks.
How companies and governments choose to respond over the next decade will be a focal point of many discussions to come.
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