Good morning, and Happy New Year.
CEO Daily is rested and ready for what is sure to be an eventful New Year. Here are five big business trends we’ll be watching:
1: Recession Watch. Apologies for being contrary; all signs point to a solid economy in 2018, with tax cuts boosting growth. But that’s precisely the reason to start worrying. The economic expansion is eight and a half years old, and this spring, it becomes the second longest on record. Unemployment is at all-time lows in 13 states. Wages are (finally) starting to rise. As a result, there’s a steadily growing danger that something will happen to end the streak—a spike in interest rates powered by the Fed; a collapse in the stock market caused by a re-valuation of tech companies; a trade war sparked by the President; or a nuclear standoff with Kim Jong-un, to name a few. None of these, by themselves, is a likely event; but together they represent an impressive flock of potential black swans circling an aging economic expansion.
2: AI advances. 2017 was the year AI leapt to the forefront of CEO consciousness. 2018 may be the year that the hype starts to become reality. At CEO Daily, we believe the explosion of connected devices spewing out data that can be transformed into intelligence by ever smarter machine-learning algorithms eventually will spark a new industrial revolution. But we also recognize there are long and variable lags. If you missed this smart piece by Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal last week, take time to read it now. A belated burst of business productivity in 2018, if it happened, could help prolong the expansion and provide a much-needed boost to living standards.
3: The tech backlash builds. Expect to see this on multiple fronts in 2018, as retailers worry about Amazon’s growing dominance, media companies struggle in the Facebook-Google-Netflix vise grip, Congress continues its quest for information on how Russia, ISIS and other bad actors benefit from social networks, and concerns about cyber security and data privacy grow. One area to watch is antitrust enforcement, where the government’s suit to block the AT&T-Time Warner merger could presage a new approach to vertical integration that could ultimately threaten the FAANG firms.
4: The CEO Statesman is on the rise. For a host of reasons, CEOs are increasingly taking on social issues. Driving the trend: socially-conscious millennial workers, ineffective governments, and the need to build public trust in business. Expect to see more CEOs stepping up in 2018. With the labor market tight, they need to show that their companies are doing good in the world to attract the best talent.
5: A changing workplace for women. The #MeToo movement has caused an abrupt shift in acceptable workplace behavior. Some worry that could result in a backlash, but I’m betting 2018 will mark a turning point for women in the workplace.
When it comes to regulation, no news is good news.
At least for U.S. business leaders, who are growing confident in a Trump administration that has pulled back on regulation. Though the link between regulation and positive economic effects is murky at best, a stable business environment is beginning to translate into corporate spending. The New York Times
Caterpillar is in a $2 billion tax fight with the U.S.
The iconic manufacturing company—it had roles in the building of the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge, among others—ships parts from the American Midwest but lets sales flow through a subsidiary in Geneva, an arrangement in place since 1999. The IRS is investigating and its findings could influence how U.S. companies structure their businesses to lower tax bills. The Wall Street Journal
Oil prices are up, but unrest in Iran grows.
Oil prices posted their strongest opening to a year since 2014. The price of crude rose to mid-2015 highs (above $60 per barrel), driven by anti-government rallies in Iran and supply cuts led by OPEC and Russia. Strong economic growth and falling inventories are expected to support continued strength in the market. Reuters
North Korean hackers are hijacking computers to mine cryptocurrency.
How do you find money when the international community won’t let you have it? Take matters into your own hands. A hacking group called Andariel, reportedly acting on behalf of the North Korean government, is believed to have seized a South Korean server to mine Monero, a kind of digital currency. Bloomberg
Around the Water Cooler
Game over in China?
The fast-growing mobile games industry has created a lot of wealth—$18 billion in 2017 alone—in a very short time, benefiting major players like Tencent. But industry observers are concerned that this virtual ship is running out of steam after years of extraordinary expansion. The Wall Street Journal
Bitcoin: A bust in its first hours of 2018.
For the first time since 2015, the cryptocurrency began a new year sliding rather than soaring—a continuation, to be fair, of a pattern seen since hitting a $19,511 peak on Dec. 18. It’s now trading around $13,624—a sign of, well, who knows for this highly volatile phenomenon. Bloomberg
Technology makes it easier for employees to sexually harass each other.
In the modern workplace you have access to more details, in real time, about your colleagues’ lives than ever before. That transparency and immediacy is helping companies operate better and faster. It’s also creating new, often mandatory avenues for would-be harassers to work their toxic magic. Financial Times
Amazon: Everything store, or everything company?
Are there limits to the number and kind of businesses that Amazon could enter? At its heart the company is a marketplace—a platform for commerce—with a “one size fits all” approach that serves most people. It won’t specialize in a given market, and that’s a hint as to where Amazon might go next. The Wall Street Journal