The outlook in 2023 for most sectors in the economy remains highly uncertain and difficult to forecast. In electronic goods, for example, and the associated supply chains (semiconductors), the pandemic saw a major pull-forward of demand as people who were stuck-at-home in lockdowns decided to upgrade home PCs, tablets, smartphones, TVs, etc. Now with most countries having fully re-opened, that demand has understandably declined as consumers switch to spending money on services and other activities. Trying to predict the timing and shape of a recovery in these sectors is now very difficult. We’re seeing a similar pattern in many other consumer spending-led sectors too.

In renewable energy and related industrials, the pandemic interruption to supply chains, combined with input cost inflation, and the effects of the war in Ukraine, have conspired to cause a major slowdown in demand. The long-term story of high demand levels for renewables to combat climate change is clear, but predicting the short term is much harder. Again, we see a similar pattern across many sectors in global manufacturing.

This uncertainty is mirrored in the macro economy too. Will the US enter a recession later in 2023?  What about 2024?  Will Europe make it through next winter without going into recession… what if it’s a cold winter?

The honest answer to these macro questions is, we don’t know. Nobody does. Trying to predict the outcome for an individual business 1-2 years into the future is extremely complex and fraught with risk. Map that up to an entire economy and accurate predictions become impossible. 

We prefer to shy away from making predictions we have no chance of getting right. Much better, we would argue, to focus on predictions where the probability of success is much higher.

These opportunities do exist, and if we look at the state of play for the global economy today, there are a couple of areas where we think the outcome seems to be much easier to predict. We can have much higher confidence in making calls on those specific sectors, given the information we have available today. 

A good example here is Chinese consumption. Rather than make specific predictions about growth rates or levels of inflation, we can make confident predictions on the short-term direction. We know the economy there is re-opening after a long bout of pandemic-induced lockdowns. Anecdotal evidence suggests city centres, shopping malls, etc. are packed. We’re also seeing global jet fuel demand rise substantially, as millions of Chinese consumers look to travel abroad again on holiday for the first time in years. 

It’s possible, but unlikely that the Chinese government would risk reversing this re-opening decision. This looks to be a one-way bet. 

We also know, based on pre-pandemic trends, the categories in the global economy which benefit the most from Chinese consumption. Travel related industries, luxury goods, these are two large sectors which have historically benefitted from rising Chinese consumer spending, at home and abroad. We think it’s a fair call to make today, that the first half of 2023 is likely to see a major uptick in demand in travel related sectors and in luxury consumer goods, because of China’s re-opening.

This is a good place to be looking for potential outperformance vs. expectations in what is, otherwise, a very difficult starting point from which to make predictions for short-term performance.

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