Five Numbers Say Don’t Give Up….

Perhaps it’s the prospect of beginning a 100 day no-alcohol stint which is causing, on my part, a sudden obsession with numbers. Then again, it could be just a time thing. I mean, who knew one of the World Darts finalists would be younger than the iPhone? Or, that just 9% of UK voters believe Brexit is going to plan? Well, probably the rest of the world knew that a policy to sanction your own economy more heavily than Russia was going to end in tears. However, the rest of the world should drop the sermons-in-smug and pay attention to the first of five key numbers we are watching in 2024….

Climate Crisis: The temporary visit on November 17th of global temperatures more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial averages is a five-alarm-bell ringing of an existential crisis for the planet. Given we have been in perpetual storm mode since late November, and the storm-naming cycle is already past “H” with Storm Henk, there is a personal sense that bad news could be good news. In particular, catastrophe losses in the insurance and capital markets could focus political leaders’ minds on the sheer cost of loose non-urgent language in the recent Cop 28 commitments.

Bond Markets: We regularly remind readers that the cost of money (interest rates) is the critical driver of ALL asset prices. The number which caught the eye this week was that bond prices (which fall when interest rates/yields rise) have been in negative territory for 41 consecutive months – the longest ever draw down in history. And, forgive the repetition, but again bad news might actually be good news for bond prices. In other words, a slower economic environment and some employment weakness could be the trigger for global central banks to ease interest rates and allow bond prices recover.

Venture Capital: In the Spark world of start-ups we are always watching the private markets as well as the more liquid (and better performing) public equity markets. The S&P 500 might have sucked in AI-excited investment and delivered 25% gains in 2023, but for younger companies access to capital was far more difficult. The VC data research team at PitchBook reckons global VC funding fell to $345 billion in 2023, down from $531 billion the previous year. In private equity, deployment of capital dropped by 29% and exit activity was down by 26%. That’s the worst combined performance since 2016. However, the silver lining in these numbers is that funding activity has shifted away from more mature private opportunities to early-stage, seed-type investments. In fact, two in every three deals done were in early-stage companies.

Cleantech: While Tesla is overtaken by Chinese rival, BYD, as the top electric vehicle(EV) producer globally, there is strong evidence that Europe is ramping up its capabilities in the EV ecosystem. Buck Consultants have published research forecasting the installation of 250 EV battery gigafactories in Europe by 2033. This won’t be a huge surprise to those who have seen McKinsey estimates of annual cleantech spend until 2050 exceeding $6 trillion. Imagine investing more than the entire GDP of Japan every year…..for decades.

Democracy: Of course, investment in our survival and a phasing out of fossil fuels can only happen with strategic political leadership. The shift to right-wing populism has been a striking feature of the global political landscape in recent years but 2024 is truly the “Year of The Vote”. The US and UK are high profile elections on the horizon but the global stakes are much much higher than that. Seven of the ten most populous countries in the world, with a combined 4 billion voters, go to the polls in 2024. That’s 46% of the world’s population, or 54% of global GDP, deciding where we go next. Oh, and don’t forget European/MEP elections this year too.

So, we can perhaps understand why financial markets are opening up 2024 in a jittery manner. However, as Sergeant Kenneth “Hutch” Hutchinson departs in his iconic red Gran Torino for his celestial precinct in the sky, I’m hopeful that young companies and young voters can put the five numbers above on the right trajectory. In particular, we must hope that younger voters reject the fear fraudsters and focus on the sustainability of their own future. Dare we suggest that the temperatures of both hate and climate are the key dial-down numbers to their survival, and engagement? Or, as David Soul might sing, “Don’t Give Up On Us Baby…”

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