Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2009: Images from the crystal ball!

It is that time of the year - December is here and so are the holidays. Again time to reflect on what is possibly in store for us in the next year. 2008 snapshots from crystal ball panned out pretty well. So here goes!

The monetary system
The monetary system is under terrible duress. With every central bank printing money - there is a great deal of money sloshing around. As of now it is just plugging the holes in the balance-sheets of the big-money operators. Soon this money will spread and it will create problems. However, we still cannot conclusively say if this will lead to inflation. Let me elaborate.
Inflation happens when buyers have too much money and sellers have too few products. It is often referred to as "too much money chasing too few products". 

Lets look at buyers. US, EU and to a certain extent Japan are biggest buyers. All except Japan, are in deep debt hole. Even if money were made available to these buyers, it is unlikely that they will buy. Most likely the excess money will go into debt repayments and savings. Also, I really have my doubts if the buyers will ever get that much money.

Now lets look at the amount of products available. This is a combination of assets and consumables. As a part of the past few years excesses, we have over supply of assets and substantial supply of consumables. In such a situation, it will be difficult to have inflation. 
The only way we can have inflation is if central bankers across the world collaboratively print whole stacks with gay abandon.

Demotion of US Dollar
Currently most of global wealth is held in USD. The de-leveraging has created an artificial strength for the Dollar. This is a concept a lot of analysts cannot cope with. This will cause as much confusion as "change of origin" causes in introductory trigonometry class. Devaluation of US dollar is a concept where the reference point has changed - and the analyst world will take some time to get its bearing on this. So the default argument is to turn a nelson's eye - ignore it. From the world of measuring the absolute (everything in USD terms) - we will move to world of relativity (everything relative to everything else). 

Emergence of "Wealth measurement anchor" is paramount requirement
What we need is to determine and accept a standard metric of value. Gold used to fit this scale earlier. We need to start using PPP determination as a denominator for value. So like in PPP measurement - we take a basket of goods and measure the currency's potency in terms of price of this basket. Just like Noah's ark carried sample species of all kinds, this basket must be representative across the world. On this basis we can measure wealth and arrive at a saner understanding of gain or loss of wealth. 

If all else fails - plain simple gold will do. But this will create a mega-mad rush for gold and create another scare.

Gold and Oil
If monetary environment isn't already complicated - Oil and Gold are adding to the confusion. These two commodities (and precious metal in a secondary sense) make up a set that is in demand globally. One is value retainer and other is a global necessity for economic growth. The prices of these commodities are denominated in USD. We are likely to see massive price correction in these commodities. Rather it is currency devaluation rather than commodity appreciation. So for investors whose wealth is in other currencies - it will be difficult of estimate the prices. Gold however should regain favour as value retainer and see increase in demand. Here are some links about gold price forecasts.

Corner the consumer - up the trade barriers!
There is going to be a great battle for consumers. At the moment, people are too busy looking for money to make the products. Soon people will be looking for consumers to buy these products. So saver countries (where there are lot of savers) will be expected to consume more to benefit producer countries. But this needs exchange rate management e.g.- China is looking to devalue its currency more than US. So we will see a lot of political hardball on exchange rates and tariff and non-tariff barriers. 
Potential for a global war!
While no-one else believes this and to some extent this often gets me ridicule, I believe a global war probabilities have increased significantly. These are not wars triggered by Mumbai attacks or some terrorist strikes. These are old-school wars based on conflict between creditors and debtors. Lord please give us saner politicians for 2009 and beyond.

Pay scales and organisation structures
Pay scales and organisation structures are going to see drastic changes. Firstly the pay-spread (difference in Cost-to-company salaries between CEO and lowest rung employee) will narrow. This is primarily because current financial crisis has put a focus on top management pay scales.

Further, the current recession will increase the need for special talent in corporations. These people will operate outside the organisations as consultants or temporaries. They will work on project basis and move to next companies. Mostly these people will work on organisation structure, costs and other non-intellectual property issues. Core intellectual property work will require in-house employees in classical organisations.

The main area of disruption will be the organisation structure itself. The structure will go through a radical change in the coming years and some sort of prototype should emerge in 2009. The difference between inventors, technicians, implementors and enablers will become more marked. For more details leave a comment for an e-book I co-authored with Anne McCrossan. 

This means that Private equity and consulting industries will go through a tremendous change. There is going to be a new wave of management jargon and it will be much more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. I suggest you look at Seth Godin as a new management guru (I know he writes about marketing - but look at Tribes - thats a management book).

In sum
We are looking at an exciting year ahead to say the least. We are looking at a new year where terrorists will have higher leverage (due to financial vulnerabilities), a possible war scenario and new financial and economic system. Lets hope we have the leaders to understand and guide us through this sensibly. So happy new year to all and make sure you savour every second of the celebrations! May peace be with us!