A global round-up from The Economist Intelligence Unit
This article was originally published by The Economist on 21 November, 2022.
1. America’s Federal Reserve and other Western central banks raise interest rates still further to battle inflation. China, though, keeps monetary policy loose.
2. The inflation crisis hurts shoppers and retailers; even e-commerce growth slows. Online retail is 14% of all sales - up from 10% in 2019 but barely beating 2022.
3. Covid-19 takes many more lives, but deaths dip to less than double the number from flu. China may loosen its zero-covid policy, risking a surge in cases.
4. Asia’s appetite for energy helps push global oil demand up by 1.5%, to exceed pre-pandemic levels. OPEC grudgingly expands output, suppressing prices somewhat.
5. Recession risks and rate increases do not prevent tech spending rising by more than 6%. Device sales disappoint, but the artificial-intelligence market swells to $500bn.
6. As they struggle to sign up new subscribers and take on competitors, streaming firms continue to invest heavily in content - $17bn, in Netflix’s case.
7. Global sales of new cars grow by just 1%, but those of electric vehicles increase by 25% as China reverses plans to scrap tax breaks to maintain demand.
8. America, the world’s biggest defence spender, boosts annual outlays to $800bn - more than three times China’s level. But budgets, adjusted for inflation, shrink.
9. Broad gauges of commodity prices retreat. This provides little relief to companies hampered by flagging production of some metals - or to 800m hungry people.
10. Air travel turns profitable as international arrivals soar by 30%. But they stay below pre-pandemic levels; many would-be business travellers opt to meet remotely instead.
The war in Ukraine and the pandemic will drag on. Pricey commodities will help producers but worsen food insecurity and hurt many economies. Although global GDP growth will slow to 1.6% in 2023 from 2.8% in 2022, inflation will be a still-sizzling 6%, forcing central banks to raise interest rates further. China, though, will keep rates low—and may ease its zero-covid policy, boosting world trade.
After three sputtering years, carmakers will stay in the slow lane in 2023. New-car sales will rise by 1% but remain 14% below 2019 levels. Commercial-vehicle sales, less hard-hit by the pandemic, will fall further. Supply-chain blockages will linger, though a shortage of chips will recede. Energy shortfalls and higher prices will take a bigger toll, particularly in Europe. Carmakers will struggle to pass on rising costs to buyers as inflation erodes consumers’ incomes and savings. Profits will drop.
Even electric vehicles will accelerate less sharply. Global sales, which doubled in 2021, will increase by 25% to 10.8m, or around 20% of the total new-car market. China will account for more than half of these as it backtracks on plans to scrap tax breaks for fear of stifling demand. China will also impose the world’s strictest emission standards for fossil-fuel vehicles. Germany’s sales of electrics will slip as it cuts subsidies. But electrics offer the best hope for carmakers in the long run, so they will launch more of them.
New electric models will tend to be bulkier, like Tesla’s delayed Cybertruck or sport-utility vehicles from BMW, Hyundai and others. Robotaxis will take to the roads in China, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere. Two German cities will hold trials of “level four” autonomous vehicles, with human drivers barely needed.
TO WATCH: Drone ascent. Volkswagen China will conduct advanced tests of a passenger-drone prototype aimed at wealthy urbanites. The electric “air vehicle” will boast vertical take-off and landing capabilities and may eventually carry four passengers.
Defence and aerospace
War in Ukraine and tensions over Taiwan will drive governments to fortify defence budgets. America, the world’s biggest spender, will raise outlays by nearly 9% in 2023, to $800bn, more than three times as much as second-placed China. Japan and Germany will pursue their goals of spending 2% of GDP on defence during the next five years. Even so, defence ministries will struggle to overcome high inflation, so spending will fall in real terms - a blow for defence and aerospace companies. Compounding their troubles will be labour and supply-chain issues, hitting just as Airbus and Boeing, the global leaders, try to lift post-pandemic aircraft production.
Still, new technologies will get a boost. America will step up research spending, while NATO expands innovation funding. New emissions standards will apply to business jets, as Britain plots the first net-zero transatlantic flight. But manpower will matter, too, particularly in eastern Europe. The new “NATO Force Model” will enable the alliance to deploy over 100,000 troops within ten days, another consequence of the war in Ukraine.
TO WATCH: Space invaders. NASA will reach for the Moon again in 2023 as its Lunar Trailblazer begins a search for water there. But private missions run by billionaires are also looking to the skies. Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans a lunar fly-by. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin will launch a new rocket, New Glenn. And Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic hopes to start commercial services.
The energy crisis will deepen in 2023, particularly in Europe. Under Western sanctions, Russian hydrocarbon flows will dwindle as the EU widens bans on Russia’s oil and it retaliates by ending virtually all gas supplies. But Asia will help push up global oil demand, which will rise by around 1.5% - or 1.5m barrels a day (b/d) - to exceed pre-pandemic levels. OPEC will grudgingly raise oil output by 2.4m b/d, suppressing prices a bit. Winter will deplete Europe’s gas stocks, and flows of liquefied natural gas (LNG) will fall short. Germany and Italy will open LNG regasification terminals, but compete with buyers in Asia.
All this will keep oil and gas prices high, even as energy-consumption grows by a meagre 1%. The scramble for fuel will lift coal consumption to new records, with countries from Germany to China backtracking on planned cuts that were intended to tackle climate change. But solar power will also shine, raising demand for non-hydro renewables by 11%. Hydropower output will expand by 3% amid water shortages and doubts about its green credentials.
By November the COP28 climate summit in Dubai will bring new pledges to cut emissions, and a new deadline for wealthy countries to give poorer ones $100bn a year in green finance. They may succeed (three years late). One hot topic for attendees: energy-efficient air-conditioning for a warming world.
TO WATCH: Fission frisson. Interest in nuclear power will radiate around the globe in 2023. Newly nationalised EDF will open the first of France’s next-generation nuclear-power stations, and China will launch an experimental fast-reactor. To avoid blackouts, Germany and South Korea will shelve plans to close nuclear plants.
As fears of covid-19 recede, more film fans will migrate from their saggy couches to cinemas’ comfy seats. Box-office revenues in 2023 will surpass those in 2019, welcome news for cinema chains lumbered with pandemic-era debts. Streaming firms will lose subscribers as monthly fees climb, but will nonetheless need to satisfy cravings for even more binge-worthy content. Netflix, the biggest streamer, will spend $17bn on this - but will prioritise squeezing more money from each user. Warner Bros will roll out a service combining HBO Max with Discovery+.
Streamers’ cash piles will help them harry conventional broadcasters in new arenas. Amazon’s Prime Video has led the race into sports broadcasting, long a preserve of traditional telly. From 2023, Apple TV+ will show live games from America’s Major League Soccer, thanks to a deal worth $2.5bn.
So far, the competition over sport has not drawn in Netflix. The company will be hoping that a cheaper advertising-supported service, which was launched in several markets in November 2022, will lure cash-strapped viewers and reignite subscriber growth. Globally, Netflix will thwart freeloaders by cracking down on password sharing.
WHAT IF? The EIU expects China’s GDP to grow by a reasonable 4.7% in 2023, but risks abound. Periodic Chinese covid lockdowns are still likely. The country’s property bubble looks perilously close to bursting. And the coming slowdowns in America and the EU, huge export markets, could dent Chinese growth. What if China goes into recession in 2023? This would mean a weaker Chinese appetite for imports, pushing down global metal and energy prices. Fewer imports would translate into less production of everything from apparel to solar panels. The impact would land hard in Shenzhen, the world’s biggest source of electronics. Also feeling the pain would be countries that provide goods to China: think of America, Japan and South Korea, which sell China cars, aeroplanes and much else. Worried companies would include Tesla, keen to boost sales in the biggest electric-car market. Also smarting would be American and EU consumer brands hoping to sell more in China to offset slowdowns at home. Among Chinese firms, property developers could be slammed by bad loans. The fallout from that would be felt worldwide, roiling stockmarkets and punching a hole in global growth.
A slowing economy will test financial stability in 2023. A 2008-style global crash is unlikely, given banks’ high reserves and tighter risk standards as Basel IV implementation starts. Rising interest rates will also bolster margins. Yet unsecured private investments may come unstuck. Wide-ranging financial sanctions against Russia will cause further losses and disruption for financial firms. Sovereign defaults are certain in Sri Lanka and possible in many other emerging markets, from Mongolia and Pakistan to Egypt and Tunisia. The IMF warns that banks laden with risky foreign debt could then fail as currencies depreciate and repayment burdens soar.
Stockmarkets will tighten their standards. America will de-list companies (many of them Chinese) that flout audit rules; Hong Kong and Shanghai will benefit. China will face dangers, particularly in property: Evergrande, an indebted property giant, has until September 2023 to avoid being delisted in Hong Kong. Everywhere, more financial firms will turn to online and mobile channels, competing and co-operating with fintechs. Cross-border payments will see the next shake-up, spurred by the rise of digital currencies and by Russia’s exclusion from SWIFT, a messaging network that underpins international payments.
TO WATCH: Harder than ABC. It will be a crunch year for ESG as regulators curb greenwashing - corporate spin touting a company’s environmental, social and governance credentials. New EU rules for ESG accounting will apply from June, with America’s to follow.
Food and farming
Food shortages loom in 2023 as a result of the war in Ukraine and climate change. The UN expects 19m more people to be undernourished, with nearly 830m going hungry worldwide. Harvests will be thinner in many places. Planting will be hurt globally by a lack of fertilisers from Russia and high energy prices, and the aftermath of 2022’s droughts. Production of wheat and maize will fall, though rice output will climb. Grain exports from Ukraine will be low as Russia plays games with its blockades. Egypt, especially, will suffer.
Even so, sky-high food prices will decline as demand softens. Economist Intelligence’s (EIU) price index for food, beverages and feedstuffs will drop by 12%, led by oilseeds. Consumers will change their tastes to protect their pockets, switching from wheat to millet, or from sunflower oil to other vegetable oils. With food supplies at risk, some countries could turn to new food export bans, sending prices soaring again.
Green goals could suffer, too. To promote “sustainable” farming, the EU will push through its new common agricultural policy, but cut targets for land to be left fallow, to grow more food instead. Britain’s new land-use policy may favour food over solar farms, though it will pay some farmers for carbon cuts and conservation. America’s Farm Bill could do likewise.
TO WATCH: Lab lobsters. Singapore will gain ground as a hub for lab-grown food, as Shiok Meats launches its cell-based shrimp and lobster. In rival Hong Kong, Alt Farm will print wagyu beef. Eat Just, an American start-up, will open a plant there to fabricate chicken.
Covid-19 will infect millions more in 2023 but - provided no dangerous new variants flourish - deaths should fall to less than double the number from flu. Early in the pandemic, mortalities were over 200 times higher. China may loosen its zero-covid stance, risking a surge in cases. To pre-empt that, it will roll out more vaccines, including homegrown MRNA shots. American and British researchers will test all-variant vaccines; monkeypox and malaria jabs will also attract more attention. With pandemic deaths waning, the un believes life expectancy at birth will start recovering in 2023, after decreasing by 1.8 years in 2020-21.
Governments will struggle to fund stretched health-care systems as economies sputter and costs rise. Drug sales and health-care spending per person will climb by about 5% in nominal dollar terms, but fall in real terms as inflation bites. Countries from India to Nigeria will extend universal health care. Finland will introduce far-reaching reforms. Debates about abortion will rage in America and beyond.
Pharma firms will step up acquisitions to cope with patent expiries and generic competition - notably for Abbvie’s anti-inflammatory Humira, the world’s bestselling drug. General Electric will press ahead with spinning off and listing GE Healthcare. Pfizer, planning a greener future, will switch its North American operations entirely to solar power in 2023.
TO WATCH: Baby steps. Genomics England, a government research body, will screen up to 100,000 newborns in 2023 to gather data on rare diseases. It is a small move towards routine whole-genome sequencing, which would be a huge boost for personalised medicine. Rare diseases afflict perhaps 400m people worldwide; three-quarters of such illnesses are genetic.
For six straight years, gross fixed investment has risen as a share of world gdp, to over 25%. The steady expansion in this proxy for infrastructure spending will falter in 2023 for lack of government cash. Still, opportunities will abound. Globally, investment will be nearly $25trn. This includes pandemic stimulus of $3.2trn, according to the G20’s Global Infrastructure Hub. The G7 will raise $160m to kickstart a global infrastructure fund for emerging markets, in a move to challenge China’s decade-old Belt and Road Initiative.
Public investment planned before the war in Ukraine - including America’s infrastructure law, passed in 2021 - will focus on transport, water and digitisation goals. Newer initiatives, such as those from the EU and Britain’s National Infrastructure Bank, will pour money into energy infrastructure. China will channel more funding into rural infrastructure and 5g networks. Unfortunately, inflation has already cut these investments’ value. Labour shortages and high building costs will make many projects profitless for many companies. At least they will keep revenues flowing in tricky times.
TO WATCH: Gas expansion. Investment in new ports and regasification infrastructure for liquefied natural gas will reach $32bn in 2023, as Europe and others wean themselves off piped Russian gas.
Recession risks and interest-rate hikes will not deter IT spending in 2023. Companies will increasingly tap technology to predict demand, track supply and secure data. Gartner, a consultancy, expects tech spending to rise by more than 6% from the year before, propelled by firms’ need for software and it services. Device sales will disappoint, with high prices putting owners off replacing gizmos. But automation will accelerate as businesses work to counter high wages and supply problems. The artificial-intelligence market will swell to be worth $500bn, reckons IDC, a research firm. Cloud computing will also grow, supporting remote work and companies’ desire to collect and crunch data. Spending on cloud services offered by tech giants such as Amazon and Microsoft will hit about $600bn, Gartner projects.
All this will prompt more firms to build private mobile networks to improve connectivity and tighten security. Spending on these will reach $12bn, says Juniper Research, with 60% of it coming from manufacturing, mining and energy companies. But digitisation increases cyber-security risks; so will geopolitical strife. In 2023 governments will tighten cyber controls, adding to red tape and imposing a big burden on small businesses.
TO WATCH: Cashing in. Computer chips are in demand for use in cars, consumer gadgets and all things digital. But supply woes and China’s threats to Taiwan worry Western governments. They are trying to increase chipmaking on their own shores, with some success. In 2023 South Korea’s SK Hynix will start building a semiconductor factory in America. Other companies will follow. America is offering $52bn in chipmaking subsidies to spur production in the country, and will start handing out the cash in 2023.
WHAT IF? Gene therapies hold great promise. Replacing a piece of a patient’s defective DNA with a corrected version can treat everything from rare diseases to common cancers. Roll-out, though, has been very slow. Since 2018, American regulators have approved just 24 cell and gene therapies - most of them hugely expensive. What if there is a breakthrough in gene therapies? This could come through faster approvals, better ways of treating patients or cheaper production. On all fronts, the signs are hopeful. In America, more than a dozen gene therapies could be approved in 2023, according to CVS Health, a pharmacy chain. More than 300 clinical trials are under way worldwide. How these drugs are given to patients could be improved by using adapted viruses (“viral vectors”), newer versions of which could reduce side-effects. As for high prices, investment could cut production costs. In 2023 Biogen, an American firm, will open a new gene-therapy factory, as will Yposkesi, a French company. The biggest gains would come if governments and insurers paid for treatments over several years or rewarded drugmakers based on results. That could unlock gene therapies’ enormous potential.
Following a post-pandemic surge in spending, the advertising business faces harder times. Dentsu, an advertising giant, expects global advertising revenues to grow by more than 5% in 2023, to almost $780bn. But this will be inflated by publishers charging more for adverts, and economic choppiness will hold back would-be advertisers - especially Western ones. Look for lay-offs at advertising and marketing agencies.
Trends seeded during the pandemic will bear fruit. Digital advertising will steal more print dollars, reaching 57% of total spending. Within this, expenditure on mobile ads will increase the fastest, thanks to popular games and short videos. Developing countries in which digital-media consumption is rising - such as Brazil and India - will lead the way. However, depreciating currencies in emerging markets will mean lower profits for America’s technology giants.
Privacy concerns will loom large. Regulators and consumers are pressing the ad world to do away with “cookies”, starving advertisers of precious user-data. Apple’s move to allow people to block third parties from collecting their data will keep digital advertisers on their toes. At least Google’s decision to delay cookie-blocking until 2024 promises some relief to advertisers and ad-dependent businesses. Suffering most from the backlash will be Meta, which depends more than its peers on third-party data. But retailers such as Amazon and Walmart, which own oodles of data on shoppers, will gain: other companies will want to use their websites to target consumers better.
Metals and mining
After surging to a record high in 2022, EIU’s metals price index will fall by more than 7% in 2023 (though it will still be 40% higher than it was pre-covid). Demand for diamonds and gold will suffer most from the economic downturn, though Chinese stimulus spending will buoy metals needed for construction and manufacturing. North American steel use will hit an eight-year high.
Still, lofty energy prices and power crunches in China and Europe will hamper production of metals, including aluminium, steel and zinc. This could prompt governments to extend temporary bans on scrap-metal exports. Russian suppliers like Nornickel and Rusal will consider merging to limit the effects of sanctions over Ukraine.
The green-energy transition and digitisation will stoke demand for copper and other metals. Electric vehicles and electronics will fuel consumption of lithium, nickel and rare-earth metals.
TO WATCH: Not-so rare earths. American Rare Earths, an Australian mining firm, will release results from its Halleck Creek site in America, where it expects to find over 1bn tonnes of the 17 rare-earth minerals needed for battery production. With many of the world’s rare earths in China and Russia, the project will support America’s battery-security aims. Australia, Britain and the EU and are also boosting investment.
Property-industry sales will be worth $5.8trn in 2023 - a huge sum, but just 1% more than in 2022. Higher interest rates will weigh on mortgage lending and depress house prices in some markets. British prices may tumble by 5% as its Help to Buy scheme ends; Australia may see a 9% drop. America’s post-pandemic boom will slow, at the very least. Globally, the uncertainty will prolong a fall in new house starts and office developments, with builders wary of less demand, high costs and labour shortages. Even so, office completions will stay high in many cities, with investors eyeing safe havens and reliable rents to offset inflation.
EIU property figures do not include China, where data are sparse and the sector is fragile. Mortgage boycotts, debt defaults and a weak financing system will keep rocking Chinese confidence into 2023 despite official efforts to support credit growth. Even so, a gradual easing of covid restrictions should fuel demand there and in South-East Asia. India’s luxury market is likely to stay strong. Globally, second-home owners will be lured by sun, sea and seamless internet as they warm to hybrid working.
TO WATCH: Feeling the heat. Property owners will be encouraged, or compelled, to make buildings greener. In 2023 America will offer more tax credits for making energy-saving tweaks. Britain will set minimum energy-efficiency standards. Germany will impose emissions taxes, to be split between landlords and tenants.
The cost-of-living crisis will hurt shoppers and retailers alike. Even e-commerce’s growth will slow, especially in the West, where tight-fisted consumers and higher interest rates will hinder retailers’ expansion plans. In China, the world’s largest online-shopping market, economic pain will hamper growth; Chinese retail giants such as Alibaba and Pinduoduo will dangle low prices to lure Western consumers. In South-East Asia and Latin America, e-commerce will spread as mom-and-pop stores are digitised. Indeed, three developing countries - Colombia, Nigeria and South Africa - are expected to be among the five markets that Amazon plans to enter in 2023. Online retail-sales expansion will be slow, accounting for just over 14% of global retail sales, fractionally above the figure in 2022.
The online and offline universes will merge further. Click-and-collect will become consumers’ favourite format in richer countries, generating €11.9bn ($12bn) of revenue in Britain, more than triple 2013’s tally. Retailers will cut labour costs by automating warehouses and other back-end operations. At one new distribution hub, Australia’s Myer will deploy 200 robots that will be capable of handling seven out of ten of the company’s online orders. Fashion and luxury brands will experiment in the metaverse, aiming to tap Generation Z - the quarter of humanity born after 1997.
TO WATCH: Plastic rules? Governments will clamp down on single-use plastics. Laws will range from Spain limiting sales of plastic-wrapped fruits and vegetables to Canada banning single-use plastics outright. For consumer-goods firms, this will be costly: about 10% of all plastic is used for textiles and nearly a third for packaging.
In 2023 mobile telecoms will boost the global economy by $4.8trn, mostly through improved productivity for its 5.5bn subscribers. So says the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), an industry body. The spread of 5G technology to middle-income countries such as Argentina, India and Vietnam will take 5G subscriptions past 1bn (though East Asia and North America will still boast more 5G users). But smartphone sales will flag amid recessions and semiconductor-supply problems.
Broadband will reach more homes in the developing world. Nigeria, for instance, is aiming for 50% penetration by 2023. Still, wobbly economies will curb telecoms operators’ spending. Despite raising prices for consumers, operators will struggle to finance investments in their networks. In Asia and Europe, firms under strain will try to merge, but regulators may stop them. European operators will watch to see whether Orange and MasMovil are allowed to combine in Spain, as planned, in 2023. Should they succeed, others will follow suit.
European governments want American tech firms to fund improvements to Europe’s digital infrastructure, claiming they are free-riders. Whether the EU will act, and risk damaging the West’s united front against China’s tech dominance, is uncertain. But EU regulators will tighten the noose around big tech anyway. The Digital Markets Act, due to take effect in early 2023, aims to help new players compete with the tech oligopolies.
Travel and tourism
No longer grounded, the airline industry should turn profitable in 2023 as pent-up demand boosts international tourist arrivals by 30%, to 1.6bn. But global tourism will not return to normal. Arrivals will fall short of pre-pandemic levels of 1.8bn, held back by escalating living costs and China’s zero-covid policy. Tourism receipts, at around $1.4trn, will regain their 2019 heights only because of high energy, staff and food costs. Covid will cause further staff shortages, particularly in America and Europe. Business travel will stay subdued as online meetings persist.
Still, sporting and other events will spur travel. China has shied away from holding June’s AFC Asian Cup football contest, but will ease restrictions to host the postponed Asian Games in September. China’s limited reopening will help Asia double its tourism arrivals in 2023. Meanwhile, France will hope to convert the Rugby World Cup into tourism gold. In Saudi Arabia, the haj will move from a lottery system to quotas, letting in more pilgrims.
TO WATCH: Full sails. No longer petri dishes for covid, cruise-ship bookings will return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023. France will even get a new cruise line, Compagnie Française de Croisières. Its service will be launched using a second-hand ship, which is aptly dubbed Renaissance.
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