After a year when the Dow, Nasdaq and U.S. GNP all demonstrated strong momentum, opportunities will abound in 2018*:
1. Entire industries will be reshaped by vertical mergers and acquisitions. Consolidation continues to be the agent of change in most industries. Recent acquisition announcements such as Amazon (Whole Foods), CVS (Aetna), and AT&T (Time Warner) demonstrate that companies are going vertical. Their next step will be to further consolidate suppliers, who need to provide greater capabilities.
2. After a weak 2017, the IPO market will rebound. According to Baker McKenzie, IPOs are expected to exceed $70 billion in value in 2018, buoyed by a strong stock market and tech sector.
3. The U.S. economy is surging, and renewed business confidence will drive growth. The WSJ/Vistage CEO Confidence Index, an indicator of small business confidence, rose 14 percent versus the prior year through October. 75 percent of those surveyed expect higher revenue in 2018 after a strong showing in 2017.
4. Tax reform will be a boon for most entrepreneurs. Through the Congressional reconciliation process, the implications will become clearer, but the two proposals provide dramatic savings to pass-through entities that deploy capital. While professional services will see little tax benefit, CPAs, wealth advisors and financial services firms will have new opportunities to broker advice.
5. Leading American technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon are facing "techlash" around the world. Shackled by controversies around censorship, privacy issues and data loss, tech giants are facing significant headwinds in China, Germany and elsewhere.
6. Immersive technologies explode onto the scene. 2018 will be the year that businesses deploy real-world applications of augmented reality (AR), and, to a lesser extent, virtual reality (VR). Already in use in many daily routines (such as the heads-up display in your car), augmented reality will be used to train machinists, pilots and retail employees.
7. IoT helps us make better decisions. According to Gartner there are already 8.4 billion "things", and growing 30 percent every year. Companies are using IoT to accumulate data in real time.
8. Using artificial intelligence, bots will solve problems. For example, Facebook Messenger's Woebot provides a daily chat and teaches behavior techniques to people who are depressed, or forgot to go to the gym. Business applications will abound.
9. Ecommerce reaches a tipping point. After a hot Black Friday and Cyber Monday, online sales are expected to grow a robust 20 percent in 2018. Amazon Prime is putting pressure on the entire industry to achieve next-day delivery. According to The Wall Street Journal, 8,600 stores will close in 2018.
10. Cryptocurrencies are no longer a fad. Bitcoin's recent rise coincides with its listing on future exchanges where investors can hedge.
11. Here come the drones. The FAA will implement a new identification system to allow more precise monitoring, but also to enable more commercial applications.
12. Private sector space race reaches new heights. In 2018, a NASA aircraft will visit Mars while SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Boeing and Blue Origin duke it out to provide opportunities for passengers to take a lap around the moon.
13. Tesla will sell half a million cars, paving the way for a new generation of zero-emissions vehicles. The new Model 3 offers true disruption in the form of a car that is fun to drive and affordable to the masses.
14. The great American housing imbalance constrains employment. As hot tech jobs migrate to urban centers like San Francisco and San Jose, millennials can't afford to live in proximity to work. Even manufacturing workers often commute 60 minutes or more every day, putting more pressure on employers.
15. Employers will be more aware of harassment in the workplace. Companies will employ new practices and methods, reduce alcohol consumption and provide a safe harbor for employees to come forward.
16. Immigrant workers will be even harder to come by. The government is hiring over 10,000 ICE agents and shifting policy on H1B and L1 visas.
17. The pot business reaches new highs. When recreational marijuana becomes legal in California, Maine and Massachusetts, the market will effectively triple. New capital and entrepreneurs are flooding the market, but institutional investment is on the sidelines given the confusing federal, state and local oversight.
18. The global economy is still fragile. There is much to be optimistic about. But potential flashpoints in North Korea, China (rising debt), Venezuela (inflation over 1,000 percent) and Brazil (corruption), as well as threats of natural disaster and terrorism, put the world economy on tenuous footing.
Given these trends, what should your focus be in 2018?
- Get great tax planning advice now, so you can act before the end of 2017.
- Have a nimble strategic plan, that can change on a moment's notice. Review it quarterly to ensure you are in a position to seize the opportunities ahead.
- Invest in technology. Ask of your management team, how is technology a strategic advantage? If your team doesn't have the chops to answer the question, find the people who do. Weave technology into your strategic plan.
- Hire people before you need them. If the economy continues to heat up, and unemployment levels off at 4 percent or so, it's going to be nearly impossible to find talent.
- Be a best-in-class employer, and push the envelope on providing a flexible work environment (including virtual office space).
- Utilize collaboration tools that allow you to provide your team the ability to be effective, in any location at any time.
- Execute flawlessly. Given the rate of change, customers expect on-time delivery, great quality and seamless communication. Utilize agile principles to ensure your team can pivot quickly to meet evolving customer demands.
*Nothing in this post represents investment advice.