In early January, I made a set of predictions for the year ahead. The matters addressed were fairly broad, including media, technology and business, in order to get some of the most outlandish ones a fighting chance of coming true. As we’ve reached this b*tch of a year’s end, time has come to check in and see if I am indeed a business prophet or yet another hack with a newsletter.
The smart money is on the latter.
Remember, though, what may seem fairly obvious now was VERY MUCH less so 12 months ago.
1. Big Tech’s Reckoning
Prediction: the corporate anthropomorphic representations of God, Love, Hunger and Lust (Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple, respectively) continue to destroy the economy’s equilibrium (goodbye, media and retail), and politicians start to grow some cojones. The anti-trust movement comes from a 2018 senator-to-be eyeing up the presidency. We’re already seeing the early signs of grovelling to the masses in the form of Bezos making his charitable donations public, Apple bring his extra cash back home, and the Zuck writing that his 2018 resolution is to “fix Facebook” (that’s your job, mate). Come November, it’ll be a bloodbath.
Results: Too much has happened to mention it all, but the fact that Google’s, Twitter’s and Facebook’s CEOs were dragged in front of congress in 2018 and grilled for hours says it all. Privacy, male culture, fake news, monopoly… it’s all come together in one big sh*t-storm. And what do you know, Josh Hawley, a newly-elected senator, has vowed to dig into potentially anti-competitive behavior from Silicon Valley. Zuckerberg vowed to fix Facebook, and absolutely failed to do so. All he seems to be able to do is apologise, despite the AVALANCHE of bad news he has had to face. Google was castigated for the role it plays in China and has faced an employee uprising. Meanwhile, Amazon faces increasing anti-monopoly scrutiny. Apple, though, seems to have reminded more or less unscathed.
Score: 9/10 (damn you, Apple).
2. Digital Decay
Prediction: Pinterest, Twitter, Snap and Buzzfeed continue to sink into irrelevancy and are bought for a fraction of their historically highest share price.
Results: Bit of a mixed bag. Pinterest is ramping up for a pretty big ($12B) IPO in 2019, while Buzzfeed is actually churning out some pretty good journalism nowadays and seems to be walking away from its content-stealing roots (though they still regularly publish the type of articles we’ve come to know and hate). Twitter, however, is seeing a drop in followers, though it’s revenues have gone up after a large decrease in Q4 2017. The echo chamber to end all echo chambers might yet have some steam left. Snap is facing similar issues, plagued as it is by the Zuck’s digital army of doom copying its every move and innovation. Daily users are declining, their revenues have been pretty flat all year, and its stock hit an all-time-low last week at $4.85. They’ve however held on and have not been purchased yet. Something tells me that Big Tech’s reckoning may have something to do with this : anti-trust discussions are already at a decades-high.
3. Elon Musk
Prediction: The man, the legend has a great year. He made a lot of bold choices over the past years (public transport, space exploration, renewable energy…) and those bets start to pay off after the battering many other industries took in 2017. Tesla overtakes BMW’s market cap.
Results: Weeeeeell… that did not turn out so well, did it? Though Tesla seems to now be doing fine now after facing “manufacturing hell” early in the year, it was a rough year for Elon Musk, and one of his own making. In 2018, he made derogatory comments about the free press, tried to make a rescue mission about himself, belittled a legitimate hero, got sued as a result, smoked pot on camera, and was charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a tweet claiming that funding had been secured for taking Tesla private. He then proceeded to mock the SEC. DAMN, SON! All this hides the success of SpaceX (Falcon Heavy launch, anyone?), and the crazy ride that Tesla has embarked on. As predicted, the latter’s market cap is indeed larger than BMW’s at the end of 2018.
4. M&A Boom
Prediction: Amazon buys Carrefour. Disney buys Netflix and creates the omni-channel empire other companies can only dream off. Apple or Facebook buys Snap. Expect odd combinations as companies prepare to fight Amazon, potentially to the death, with a little help from a booming economy and large tax cuts.
Results: This was incredibly ambitious from the start, and had a very small chance of success. Amazon did not buy Carrefour, but bought healthcare companies instead. Disney did not buy Netflix, but it did purchase Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc., in a much larger deal. Nobody bought Snap because why buy when you can copy. Global M&A did hit a new high, partly thanks to a booming economy and tax cuts, as predicted.
Prediction: Crypto-currencies get kicked in the teeth by regulators and loses 50% of their value as the world becomes slightly less chaotic. Institutions pick up the slack and prices start to rise again before the year is over.
Results: BitCoin slid like all hell in early 2018 as expected (go me), and ended up losing about 75% of its value throughout the year. If you look at the CoinDesk data, you can see that the price DID stabilise at the halfway point for a third of the year, but everything went tits up in early November. Who knows, it may have something to do with the fact that regulators are indeed actively closing in on a few shady practices (go them). Institutions picked up the slack in some ways: a handful of companies attached blockchain to their name to drum up interest and found out that’s a way to get investigated by the FEC. Of the top ICOs (initial coin offerings), 86 percent fell below their initial offering price, and a third of them lost all of their value. I warned ya.
6. Stock Market re-shuffle
Prediction: Tencent Holdings overtakes Facebook and indefinitely breaks into the top 5 of the world’s most valuable companies, while Facebook starts its inevitable downward spiral as we realise that rich kids are not immune from being giant D-bags. Meanwhile, Amazon overtakes Microsoft on its way to the top spot. We also see a return to the mean: those expecting the Dow to rise by 25% again are sorely disappointed.
Results: Tencent was indeed ahead of Facebook in the first quarter, but the latter then pulled away for most of the year. As of december 20th, however, Tencent is once again ahead. The Chinese behemoth is however VEEEERY far from the top 5, which is actually now made of a top 4 followed by “others” below a $600B valuation. The phrase downward spiral is indeed right on point for Facebook. Amazon absolutely went past Microsoft, which is however putting a good fights, surprising many analysts (diversification works, people). As for “return to the mean”… the DOW is now very slightly lower than it was at the start of the year after its worse week since the 2008 crisis.
Prediction: Cyber-attacks become more common and more crippling. The prospect of an economy-shaking cyberattack is real, be it via the destruction of a critical piece of infrastructure or through forced transparency that cripples the credibility of a leading corporation, bank, or marketplace; or even a takedown of the internet itself. Expect more data-breaches, more sophisticated ransomwares and yet more hacked elections. Results: This is very hard to assess as numbers are sparse. We however do have this excellent study that shows that cyber-crime is indeed on the rise, and bringing in a lot of money for those in on it. Security breaches continued to occur at an alarming rate in 2018. Hotel group Marriott admitted it had suffered a data breach affecting the records of up to 500 million customers, but was not alone, as Quora, Facebook, British Airways and Ticketmaster also suffered from similar security issues. Furthermore, ransomware attacks surged in 2018, with healthcare and local governments being top targets. Thankfully, no “world-shaking attacks” took place in 2018, though hackers working on behalf of China breached the networks of IBM and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and then used the access to attack key clients, with yet unseen consequences. As for hacked elections… difficult to say, but enough ink has been spilled on the matter to make it a worrying issue.
8. The Old Guard Accepts AI
Prediction: Journalists, lawyers, accountants and bankers start seeing more pros than cons to the use of increasingly smart software. See you in 2019 for the inevitable issues this will cause (think Canuts revolts).
Results: This is another hard one to assess as there are few concrete numbers to back up any claims. We have however seen the rise of tools used to enhance and optimise the work of many professions, including journalism, accounting, and finance. As the observant crowd may have noticed, we’re more talking about enhancing, helping and cooperating than replacing, as algorithms are great at easy, repeatable tasks which have low added value to intellectual professions. The full force of automation is yet to make itself felt throughout the entire economy. But it’s coming.
9. Global Tech Cold War
Prediction: China continues its battle for talent, AI and robots against the U.S., with mixed results. The US still has the best talent, but Beijing is training many more technologists. China will continue to plow money into its homegrown research and hardware sectors, while the US struggles with less control over its private-sector top performers than Beijing. The race is a tight one.
Results: As we’ve seen all year, a new Cold War is brewing, alimented by Tech. The two most consequential signs of this have been the arrest of a Huawei executive and the implementation of tariffs. Despite a temporary reprieve in December, those thinking it will last have another thing coming. Meanwhile, China is very much becoming an AI Superpower, with its sight set on dominating the Tech world within the next few years.
10. 2018 Mid-term
Prediction: The Democrats retake the House, but not the Senate, during the 2018 midterms and turn Trump’s White House life into a living hell. One of the strongest forces in the universe is the return to the mean, and the political pendulum is about to come back, swinging fast.
Results: Right on the money. The democrats scored big in the House of Representative, but lost big in the Senate, with Republicans further cementing their lead there. And a living hell is indeed on the menu for Shrimp-Boy.
Prediction: Mueller’s investigation continues and extends into 2019, unless Trump suffers from a stroke (71 + TV + no exercise + fast food + stress is a deadly combination). A president Pence would likely be re-elected in 2020, and nobody wants that — better run out the clock.
Results: It’s been a good year for Mueller and a bad year for Trump. By the end of December, Mueller has put 4 men close to Trump behind bars, convicted 1 more, has had 7 people plead guilty to various charges relating to the 2016 election and has charged 36 defendants. Those are high numbers. VERY high. And all this while turning a profit for the American people. The investigation is likely to come to a close by mid-2019, but Trump is unlikely to be impeached then, as written above.
Prediction: Negotiations continue, though more and more people realise they’ve just made a huge mistake. The UK gives in to most of Europe’s demands, drifts further from the U.S., and continues to sink into irrelevance. May’s political career does not survive the year.
Results: The year is not over yet, but May has survived the latest round of no-confidence vote and looks likely to remain as Prime Minister for the months ahead. You could however argue that her career has indeed not survived as she will never find another gig once she leaves this one. The UK is (too) slowly realising they have very few chips to gamble. If there was another vote, Remain would likely win. As of the end of 2018, 1 out 12 major Brexit issue has been settled, with 2 more deadlocked and 9 in progress. Not great given how long the negotiations have been ongoing.
13. North Korea
Prediction: The world learns to live with a nuclear Korea. The Cheeto-In-Chief continues his Twitter-rattling while other nations actually get things done and adapt, as South Korea has in the past month. Whoever claims The True Believer Rule could apply here has not been paying attention the reality on the field.
Results: And so we have. Last week, North Korea announced that it had no intent on denuclearizing, unless the U.D did it first (which will not happen). Shocking. This comes after major thaws and leaps forward in diplomacy during the summer of 2018 BECAUSE WE’VE ACCEPTED A KILLER AND DESPOT ONTO THE WORLD STAGE by having The U.S and South Korean president meet with him. We got things done. We adapted. The Twitter-rattling continued. We moved on.
Prediction: Ayatollah Khamenei chills out with regards to internal politics, granting more freedom to the Iranian people. He wants his regime to stay in power, and remembers the Arab Spring well. Expect no change in regional politics, though.
Results: Despite some big words, promises, and d*ck-measuring contests, Iran is coming out of 2018 winning. Well, not the Iranian people necessarily, but all the geopolitical uncertainty in the region is serving the Ayatollah well. regardless of strategic victories, the Iranian people are no better off, though, and the regional dynamics remain vastly un-changed.
Prediction: Syria-related headlines get rarer as the West does its best to ignore/forget the fact that it failed to act in any sort of meaningful way when faced with evil (2017 is the year I realised our moral high-ground is an illusion — see: Rohingya, CHIP, Yemen, Las Vegas…).
Results: After a year of ignoring major humanitarian disasters on all sides of this bloody civil war, the developed world has completely given up and has decided to let dictators get away with genocide.
16. World Cup
Prediction: France wins the FIFA Word Cup. You heard it here first.
Results: They had about 5% chances going in according to state-of-the-art A.I. Bow down, silly algorithms.
Prediction: The Post wins Best Picture at the 2018 Oscars. Gary Oldman wins Best Actor for “Darkest Hour” and when taking the stage, he pulls off his mask to reveal he’s actually Daniel Day-Lewis and there never was a Gary Oldman.
Results: The post did not win, beaten as it was by what I consider to be a Hentai movie. Gary Oldman DID however win his well-deserved Oscar, but no mask-pulling took place. Shame.
Prediction: Infant mortality, deaths from infectious disease, and wealth inequality between the poorest and wealthiest nations continue to decline. The number of girls attending college and global income continue to increase. People continue loving each other, and keep making great TV shows. The world keeps turning.
Results: So far so good? The use of renewable energy is up, average carbon footprints are down, literacy rates are up, tiger populations are growing, more trees are being planted than cut, technology is helping us live longer, the Ozone hole is smaller than ever… Yes, the news is grim, but we must remember not to let that stop us from helping ourselves and others be better off than they were last year.
Score: 10/10 (despite my better judgement)
FINAL GRADE : 7.9/10. Pretty good given how unlikely some of the events were. Tune in next week for 2019’s Predictions.