Most people have learned to expect the unexpected this year, and in truth, predicting the future has always been almost impossible. Nevertheless, what trends do I see in the world of investing, finance and business in 2021? Below is a snapshot of 10 trends that will shape 2021:
1. An increasing hostility towards wealthy people.
Most global stock markets rose sharply this year, despite the crash starting in late-February. US and emerging stock markets are even up by double digits. Much as in 2008-2009, this is contributing to an increased hostility towards the wealthy, alongside other drivers of inequality. Expect more populist politicians to take advantage of this, alongside sensationalist media headlines which confuse wealth and income.
2. Increased taxes.
This will especially affect wealthy people as per the last point. I expect to see new taxes, and proposed taxes, on wealthy people, expats and digital taxes. Argentina brought in new COVID-19 related taxes, which will affect Argentinian expats living abroad more than those living locally. One Canadian lawmaker even suggested that Canada bring in a US-style expat tax on overseas income. Even Cambodia is debating bringing in new digital taxes. As always, they will be bought in on the basis that they are “short-term measures” and “only” 1%. Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has already signed into law the tax bill that will require businesses to pay 1% minimum tax. In reality, they will eventually hit more people with more taxes.
After 2008-2009, the UK Government bought in a new “short-term” tax on people earning over 150,000 GBP a year. It started at 50%. This “short-term tax” still exists 12 years later. Only now it is 45% and the 150,000 band hasn’t been increased for over a decade, thereby dragging more people into the tax net because of inflation. Of course a lot of these measures, such as tax raises and regulations, just create moral hazards and unexpected outcomes, but that won’t stop populist politicians trying it in any case.
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3. An increase in asset prices compared to cash.
Stock, and even bond markets, have always beaten cash long-term. That has always been the case if somebody has been willing to hold assets long-term. What changed after 2008, and especially 2020, is that cash in the bank now pays below inflation. Historically it has paid 1%-2% above the rate of inflation. This partly links to the first point. After 2008 there was a lot of public anger about “the rich” benefiting from rises in the stock market. I expect to see the same trend in the 2020s even if nobody can predict the future direction of stock markets.
4. A brief period where people love their freedom to meet again.
Technology use will just continue to increase long-term. That will result in fewer in-person interactions. We might, however briefly, see attendances at chamber of commerce events and other in-person events increase for a few months, once restrictions are fully lifted around the world. It will probably be short-lived though, as people soon realize why they stopped attending such events.
5. A trend towards human-free interactive.
Following on from the last point, I see an increased preference for people to avoid face-to-face and even video conversations. People have been speaking about the incredible increase in the use of Teams and Zoom all year. I see a bigger trend – the preference for people to do everything via email or in a way that doesn’t involve formal face-to-face or video meetings. Most people prefer the airport e-gates to the manned ones these days, and many people feel the same way in business. Most meetings are pointless anyway – at least the long ones.
6. Existing trends will accelerate.
Existing trends, like the preference of the consumer to deal with authentic people and brands rather than a stuffy corporate image, will only continue going into 2021. The days of people being reassured by a fancy office, crisp shirts and expensive suits is long gone. Likewise, environmental and social governance (ESG) investing will get bigger, as will most online firms, and healthy food and lifestyle brands. In reality, these trends have been getting bigger for decades. The internet and online shopping has been increasing exponentially for decades, as has healthy living trends. The pandemic just forced the world to press the fast-forward button.
7. An increased skepticism towards traditional authority.
The days when the public automatically trust politicians, regulators, academic institutions and big companies has long gone. Many people prefer to deal with individuals, smaller firms and decentralized forms of authority and decision-making. Countless social media influencers now have more influence than some traditional authority figures. That is one reason review websites will probably keep getting bigger. The average person cares much more about the reviews of the whole “community” rather than one individual.
8. Tourism will start to recover.
I doubt business travel will ever fully recover as people were working remotely for years before the pandemic. I have been working fully remotely since 2017, and have partially done it since 2014. Travelling for pleasure, in comparison, is different. It can’t be replicated so easily remotely. It took tourism 3 years to recover from 9/11. It wouldn’t surprise me if it takes three years to recover this time too, but the speed of the recovery could surprise people. I expect to see more countries following in Cyprus’ footsteps and allowing tourists to come in without restrictions if they have been vaccinated.
9. Covid-19 vaccines being made compulsory.
Due to over-regulation and obsessions with not getting sued, which is linked to the regulation point, many companies and firms might make the vaccine compulsory for workers and consumers alike. The Australian airlines Qantas has already said that passengers will need to have been vaccinated to board their flights.
10. Covid-19 will be blamed for everything.
Brexit has been blamed for everything since 2016, even when it hasn’t affected things. Regulation is often blamed for businesses making irrational decisions. Sometimes it is just an excuse. Likewise, businesses, governments and others might use Covid-19 to blame failures in any area.
Of course, nobody knows the future. All we can do is prepare to protect our businesses, wealth and health.