This has been a bad couple of weeks for journalist prognosticators, so it is with some trepidation that Fortune editors have again undertaken their annual “Crystal Ball” exercise. To shore up our instincts this year, we asked IBM Watson to scour some big batches of data and spot trends. Among them:
The sharing economy goes south. Uber and Airbnb have been most popular in coastal cities, but it looks like next year they’ll be making inroads in the Southwest. There were significant spikes in news and social media mentions in places like Phoenix, Denver, Dallas.
Antibiotic breakthrough. A deep dive into news sources and medical journals found a surge in mentions of late-stage trials related to CABP, a pneumonia related to drug resistant infections. Stay tuned.
We also took some flyers on our own, without Watson’s help, including:
Barack Obama will get a $20 million book deal. That one was too easy, right? How about this:
Under Armour will merge with Lululemon. To be clear, we have no inside information. Or:
Tax reform (a limited version) will pass. It has been three decades since the last one. For those who want to read about that unlikely triumph, my book Showdown at Gucci Gulch, is still in print.
And the S&P will finish the year at 2073, about a hundred points below where it is this morning.
To get the full Fortune Crystal Ball, you can go here. I should point out that last year we had some hits – predicting, for instance, that the Fed would only raise rates once in the last 12 months – and some misses – don’t ask us about the “Rubio/Haley” T-shirts we had printed.
More news below.
• Boeing Starts a Cyclical Descent, Maybe
It’s been a wonderful few years for Boeing, riding the wave of a surge in demand for airliners both from a reviving domestic airline sector and from Asian carriers building capacity for the world’s next great tourism markets. But there were signs Tuesday that it could be past its peak. United said it would amend an order for 61 737-700 planes “because we just don’t need these airplanes now,” according to CFO Andrew Levy. Some analysts now doubt Boeing will ramp up production of the 737 as planned. In related news, EasyJet, Europe’s second-biggest short-haul carrier, also warned of overcapacity in its market. To round things off, Boeing also said it will cut 500 jobs from its defense and space units.
• Oil Prices Soar on OPEC Hopes
Crude oil futures had their best day in months as comments by OPEC ministers revived hopes of a deal to cut output in November. Iran, Iraq, Nigeria and Libya have all signaled reservations about cutting back, while non-member Russia remains a wild card, with the government in turmoil after energy czar Igor Sechin engineered the arrest of one of his biggest opponents, Economy Minister Alexey Ulyukayev, on Monday. Donald Trump’s election has also raised confidence that the new administration will be friendly towards domestic producers, which could also delay the end of the global glut. There was more bullish news from the International Energy Agency Wednesday, which stuck to its line that oil demand won’t peak before 2040, due first and foremost to rising demand from India.
• GE Bulks up AI Investment to Challenge IBM
General Electric said on Tuesday it has acquired two tech startups to build its artificial intelligence capability, a move that helps it compete with IBM’s Watson product. GE said the acquisitions of Bit Stew Systems and Wise.io will expand its Predix platform for industrial internet applications, which connects big machines such as power plants and aircraft engines to databases and analytical software. Terms of the deals weren’t disclosed.
• Ford Is Going to Ignore Trump’s Threats
Ford Motor is standing by its plans to move small car production to Mexico regardless of President-elect Donald Trump’s plans for higher tariffs and tighter border controls, CEO Mark Fields said. Fields repeated that the impact on U.S. jobs will be fully offset by allocating work on the Ranger pickup and the Bronco SUV to its Michigan plants. Fields repeated that Trump’s proposal for a 35% tariff on cars made in Mexico “could have a huge impact on the U.S. economy.”
Around the Water Cooler
• Estee Lauder Bets Big on Millennials
Estee Lauder agreed to buy make-up company Too Faced from private equity firm General Atlantic LLC for some $1.45 billion in an effort to penetrate the millennial segment of an otherwise mature market. It’s the company’s biggest ever acquisition. Too Faced’s sales will grow around 70% this year, while Estee Lauder recently missed sales estimates as consumer desert the department stores, which account for so much of its distribution.
• Snapchat Parent Files for IPO
Snapchat parent Snap Inc filed for what could be the biggest U.S. IPO in three years. The messaging service is reportedly seeking a valuation of up to $25 billion (compared to $20 billion in its last financing round earlier this year), despite only having as little as $250 million in annual revenue this year. The valuation range is a little less punchy than the $35 billion that originally made the rounds. With the prospect of higher interest rates next year under a reflationary administration, it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see those ambitions scaled down further.
• Intel Fleshes Out Autonomous Car Investments
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the company’s venture capital arm will invest some $250 million into autonomous vehicle technology over the next two years, putting some flesh on their previously announced plan to cooperate with BMW and Mobileye to put self-driving cars on city streets by 2021. Krzanich’s presentation at the LA Auto Show Monday contained the eye-catching nugget that, while the average person generates 650MB of data a day currently through use of their PCs, mobile phones and wearables, that number will rise to 1.5 gigabytes by 2020. An autonomous car, for comparison, will generate 4,000GB (sic) of data a day, Intel reckons.
• CEOs Can’t Wear Their Hearts on Their Sleeves
Normally, by the time a person acquires a position of power, they have also acquired the maturity and self-discipline to use that power. One of the more surprising consequences of the election result has been the exposure of exceptions to that rule. A week ago, it was GrubHub CEO Matt Maloney who presumed to dictate the personal politics of his employees. On Tuesday, it emerged that cybersecurity firm PacketSled had let its CEO Matt Harrigan go after he made what appeared to be death threats against the President-elect in a Facebook post. He subsequently apologized and described them as a joke. His backers weren’t amused.