The 2020s

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The 2020s: what’s next for business as technological innovation disrupts foundational sectors of the global economy?

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16 October 2020 | 3 minute read

Since our last note markets have been slightly more volatile, with the S&P 500 experiencing a c.12% correction during September, but that isn’t necessarily the bad news you might think.

To our minds this was a very welcome pause, in what has been a remarkably strong market since the lows of March. As we entered September there certainly was some speculative fervour, with the share prices of companies like Tesla and Apple jumping higher on the news of stock splits. However, stock splits do not create value so seeing this market behaviour was slightly troubling.

In saying this, I should emphasise that, overall, we do not see excesses in the equity market, and we remain comfortable with valuations. However, we certainly felt in early September that a moderation of the pace of gains, or a correction, would be very helpful in sustaining this bull market.

Since the correction low in September, the bullish trend has re-asserted itself. For US markets, we have seen breadth measures (which help us assess the sustainability of the trend) move to new highs. We have also seen a notable improvement in the performance of emerging markets, suggesting the bull market could be broadening.

Whilst we must always be open to different market outcomes in the short term, the recent re-assertion of the bullish trend certainly reminds us of the danger of attempting to time entry and exit points.

Turning to the longer term, in preparation for a recent presentation on the changing nature of the economy I read a fascinating book called ‘Rethinking Humanity’ by James Arbib and Tony Seba. I have always found Tony Seba particularly prescient in ‘predicting’ technological disruption and the book certainly did not disappoint. The economic, societal, and investment implications from their conclusions are truly epic. 

To quote from the piece, they conclude that ‘we are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential transformation of human civilization in history, a transformation every bit as significant as the move from foraging to cities and agriculture 10,000 years ago’. Epic feels like an understatement.

I found that the challenges we see today are much better understood when we understand the shifting tectonic plates of technology discussed in the book.

The authors discuss the amazing opportunities, challenges, and risks we face over the next decade, with the tantalising prospect of an ‘Age of Freedom’, if we overcome the many obstacles we see today.

There are also clear investment implications from the book. The authors conclude that during the 2020s the five foundational sectors of the global economy (information, energy, food, transportation, and materials) will be completely disrupted.

This is, of course, not a new topic for this note. We have been discussing the need to position for technological disruption for some time. However, the scale and pace articulated in the book really struck me. The authors argue that this is not another Industrial Revolution but a far more fundamental shift. The clear implication of this is that many traditional / 20th century business models will continue to struggle, whilst the leaders in new industries thrive.

Now we should recognise that we have already seen very extreme performance dispersion within the equity market this year and we will likely see some reversion of these trends at some point. Indeed, it feels inevitable that we will see ‘rotation’, with more cyclical stocks – which have underperformed so starkly – outperforming for a period.

However, if we look ahead to the balance of the 2020s (not just 2020), it seems we are only in the foothills of technological change and disruption. How we position for this changing economy is perhaps the investing challenge of our time. It is certainly a more important question to address than whether ‘value’ or ‘growth’ stocks will outperform in the near term.

As always please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have.

Ian Quigley
T: +353 1 2600080
E: ian.quigley@brewin.ie

www.brewin.ie


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