Punk rock legend Joe Strummer once said: “The future is unwritten.” As the most shocking year in recent history comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on these words, which have been idling in my memory since my university days, when I had The Clash’s CDs piled up with my textbooks.
To be frank, Covid-19 has been a rather defeating experience so far. It exposed a vicious invisible enemy, while also causing a wave of draconian regulations as governments came to terms with the pandemic’s exponential growth trajectory. The lingering feeling is one of helplessness, rather than empowerment. Is the future unwritten, or simply unwritable?
The year 2020 marks an inflection point in our modern history, or, for the sake of this column, in the recent history of the global market. Whole industries have been disrupted. Some, like aviation, will bounce back as travelling resumes. Others will not. The collapse of once-revered brick-and-mortar retail groups Arcadia and Debenhams, with 568 stores facing closure across the UK, reminds us of the seismic shift in our uses and customs triggered by e-commerce and digitisation.
The outlook on several other sectors is far less predictable.
The energy industry is in the midst of a widely acclaimed transition. Renewable energy company NextEra Energy has temporarily become more valuable than oil behemoth Exxon, once the largest public company on earth. Yet fossil fuels are still at the heart of the global energy matrix and leading producers like Saudi Arabia will try to manage the transition as much as they can.
Similarly, incumbent car producers, who are now worth just a fraction of electric vehicle (EV) sensation Tesla, but still employ thousands of people across the globe, will spend their efforts (and billions) to fight off the competition of up-and-coming EV producers, like Lucid Motors.
In the tech sphere, dominant forces of the likes of Facebook and Google will perhaps be broken up by regulators, so that market forces can breath again, although this is not expected any time soon. Research shows that technological innovation has become a way for incumbent market leaders to preserve the status quo rather than disrupting it.
The future of the office and whole cities is at stake too. More decentralised office models may emerge to the benefit of smaller, even rural communities. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is already rolling out a satellite-based internet service promising to bring broadband internet to any corner of the world, no matter how remote, for $99 per month.
The world economy is adjusting. This is the result of all the individual forces active in the market. With so much uncertainty, the marginal impact of each one of these individual forces can be enormous. In just a few months, the likes of Zoom or Slack have become billion-dollar ventures.
This is an inflection point for fDi too, as we enter our 20th anniversary year — the first issue of the magazine came off the printing press in the autumn of 2001. Global investment is set to fall by 40% this year, and possibly another 10% next year. The pie is shrinking and competition for investment is heating up. The hunger for leadership, data and direction is now bigger than ever, and addressing it will be our defining mission moving forward.
The future is indeed unwritten — and a new chapter for fDi is already taking shape.
This article first appeared in the December/January print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.