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No Mercy No Malice

2023 Predictions

December 30, 2022

Every year we make predictions. The purpose is to inspire a conversation. We also try to hold ourselves accountable. Here are some of our predictions for 2023.

2023: Patagonia Vest Recession

The business story of 2022 was inflation. In 2023 it will be recession, and we’ll realize there are worse things than people with assets becoming less wealthy. In addition, a generation of tech workers (and tech journalists) who believe Pet Bereavement Leave is normal will discover a new normal. Goldman Sachs, Airtable, Adobe, Plaid, Morgan Stanley, Buzzfeed, Pepsi, Gannet, CNN, DoorDash, AMC Networks, Carvana, Nuro, Roku, Cisco, Amazon, and Asana have all announced layoffs in the past month. More than 90,000 workers in the U.S. tech sector have been let go so far in 2022 and over 150,000 globally — more than in 2021 and 2020 combined. Relative to the 5 million total U.S. jobs created in 2022, it’s a drop in the bucket, but the drop will swell in 2023. Big Tech exploded headcount during the 14-year-long sonic economic boom.

The clouds forming over Meta’s rooftop Kombucha bar: The fastest interest rate hikes in history; tech valuations reuniting with fundamentals; and Musk proving that a business can maintain a minimally viable product with a third of its employee base. Twitter’s revenue has collapsed, from $5 billion to $1 billion, but that’s more a self-inflicted wound than the result of Musk’s mass firings. Overheard in every tech boardroom: “We can have the same great taste (massive reduction in headcount/costs) with fewer calories (revenue loss).” The most consequential business strategy of 2023 won’t be AI or supply chain diversification, but being tough without being an asshole.

The average U.S. tech worker is 35, meaning they were in 8th grade in 2001 and in college in 2008. The longest expansion in America’s history is “normal” to them — it’s the only market they know. The layoffs will make for dramatic headlines as journalists, most of whom have likewise only reported during high tide, broadcast history’s largest symphony of tiny violins. The upside(s) of the reckoning (aka, capitalism) will be substantial. Specifically …

Amazon, Alphabet, and Meta Register Historic Profits

Layoffs are bad for company morale and worse for those who get fired, but they’re often good for business. The average tech worker cost their employer at least  $100,000 in salary plus benefits and dilution in 2022. Call it $150,000. Fewer humans means substantially more profit per share. Google and Meta, with 30% operating margins, can either fire 25,000 people each or increase their top-line revenue by $12.5 billion and register the same operating income. They, and hundreds of other tech firms, will choose a version of the former.

Activist shareholders, and management whose lifestyles are linked to the share price, realize this. TCI, a hedge fund with $6 billion of Alphabet shares, sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai last month saying the company has too many employees. Alphabet and others will heed TCI’s call. Despite the headwinds facing the ad giants, including Apple’s privacy measures, the rise of TikTok, and a slowing economy, “efficiencies” will deliver Alphabet, Amazon, and Meta’s most profitable quarters ever.

As a founder/entrepreneur I’ve had several decent/good exits. The skills responsible for my (modest) success, other than being ridiculously fucking lucky: communication, attracting talent, and firing (non)talent. Put another way, if you enjoy the Hallmark Channel more than the History Channel … don’t start a business. If this sounds callous, keep in mind that 99% of the world would kill to be a recently laid-off U.S. tech professional; it means you are educated, highly skilled, and live in a democracy. And this downsizing cloud comes with a thick silver lining — a recession is the best time to start a company, because people and equipment are less expensive and consumers/clients are open to new products/services.

ByteDance Breaches $1 Trillion in Value

A couple months ago we wrote about the two forces sucking the oxygen from the advertising ecosystem: Apple and TikTok. Apple is already a multi-trillion-dollar firm, and TikTok will cut the ribbon on its four-comma valuation this year. At its current $300 billion valuation, TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, is worth more than Disney, Snap, Pinterest, Twitter, IPG, WPP, and the Omnicom Group combined.

The Chinese company took just five years to reach a billion users — three years less than Instagram and four years less than Facebook — and those users spend 100 minutes/day on the platform. When young people are asked to choose between TikTok and all of TV/streaming … they choose TikTok. Think about the last sentence. ByteDance’s network should be banned or spun to U.S. interests, but that’s another post. The parties involved will find an accommodation, as there’s just too much money at stake.

Peak Idolatry of Innovators

Nearly 7 billion of the 8 billion people on Earth identify with a religion. As a species, we can’t choose if we worship, but can choose who we worship. As search engines and iPhones replace mythical and spiritual beings as our sources of truth, our worship  shifts to the gods responsible — the wealthiest person in tech has a 1 in 3 chance of being Time’s Person of the Year.  Our new gods: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry and Sergey, Elon Musk, Elizabeth Holmes, Sam Bankman-Fried …

Our gross, nonsensical adoration of tech innovators may have peaked. It’s been a tough couple of months for the Church of Technology: Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced to 11 years, and her colleague to 13 years; Nikola founder Trevor Milton was convicted of fraud; Celsius Network went bankrupt and faces federal investigations; and SBF’s Oops I Did it Again apology tour was cut short due to an outbreak of law.

I hope a fresh round of bankruptcies, margin calls, and orange jumpsuits dethrones our modern-day gods and sobers up the media, the public, and elected leaders who worship them. I’m optimistic these abusers will not just be reassigned to different parishes, but their close-up will illuminate the importance of regulation, trust, and independent boards. We may even realize the people responsible for prosecuting fraudulent actors, maintaining backstops on savings accounts, and writing laws are the people who are really on y(our) side.

I also believe we’ll see a return to 20th century admiration for government agencies and people who have re-created the sun and are transporting us to the beginning of time. They have achieved these things without stealing from others, accusing ex-employees of sex crimes, or spreading homophobic conspiracy theories.

While we’re here …

Tesla: Record Revenue … and the Stock Halves (again)

Scott Fitzgerald defined intelligence as the ability to hold two opposite ideas in the mind at the same time. Tesla will post record revenue and deliveries next year, and the stock will still get cut in half. I’ve been a Tesla bear for a long time, which means I’ve been (very) wrong for a long time. The lesson was to “never bet against a company with a great product.” And that’s still true. The problem for Tesla is that greatness is relative, and the industry is catching up. In London every other car is an EV, and most of them aren’t Teslas. At the World Cup in Qatar there was a barrage of advertisements for the Ioniq 5, Car and Driver’s 2022 EV of the Year.

Tesla pulled the future forward with EVs that bested internal combustion cars. But the future is finally here, and TSLA is catching up to our prediction. Last year we said (again) that Tesla would be cut in half in 2021, and it was. The slide will continue. Why? Tesla still trades at 35 times earnings, while the competition (something Tesla didn’t have before) trades at 5 times earnings.

Best-Performing Tech Stocks: Airbnb, Meta, Chinese Internet Firms

I believe the best-performing large tech stocks of 2023 will be Airbnb and Meta. For different reasons. Airbnb stock is pricier, but we believe it will grow into its valuation. Seventy percent of the company’s site traffic comes from direct, organic visits — that’s compared to 40% for Marriott and Expedia. This brand strength results in a net margin twice those of its hospitality peers. Airbnb also generates half a million in revenue per employee, more than most tech companies — and ten times greater than hotel chains. The company can reinvest at a rate that will further increase the delta between the business and its peers. I believe, already, that ABNB is the strongest hospitality brand in modern history. “I got a Hilton in Los Angeles,” said nobody, ever.

I hate Meta and … its equity will outperform the market. The Zuck’s growth plan (the metaverse) is something his most formidable enemy could not have dreamt. We said this before it was cool, and the market concurred this year and took the stock down 75%. In one year, Meta lost its gains from the previous five. Sure, the metaverse is dumb/stupid/ridiculous, but Meta is still a $120 billion business and a cash volcano with (despite Zuck roofieing his colleagues with a Big Gulp Grande Venti ayahuasca trip to the metaverse) exceptional operating margins. Facebook and IG are no longer the hot new thing, but the population of the Southern Hemisphere and India still use them.

Other strong performers will be Chinese tech stocks such as Meituan, Pinduoduo, Tencent, Alibaba, and JD.com. The thesis is simple: On an enterprise-value-to-revenue basis, these stocks are selling for 50% off their U.S. peers due to political uncertainty, not the performance of the underlying businesses. There’s likely more short-term turbulence as China reels from its abandonment of “zero-Covid,” but China’s economic heft and Xi’s need to continue bringing his countrymen into the middle class will augur a reprieve for the tech sector.

Longshot: Disney Acquires Roblox

Roblox is a metaverse that works. The gaming platform has roughly 60 million daily active users, half of them 13 years old or younger. At the beginning of the year the stock was $120; it’s now below $40. At Disney, Bob 1 is back, and he may be the best buyer in history. During his first stint he acquired Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Bamtech, and 21st Century Fox. (We’ll ignore the last one.) Acquiring Roblox would be expensive, but Disney has the capital, and strategically it makes sense. Just as Bob brought Woody and Anakin Skywalker to the parks, he has the opportunity to now bring the parks (and their characters) to Roblox. A Disneyverse, if you will.

Consolidation of Subscale

Bear markets morph large firms into firms that are not large enough. These are prime acquisition fodder. I believe we’ll see the consolidation of many subscale companies, including Lyft, AMC, Peloton, Carvana, and Robinhood. In terms of market cap, Uber is now 15 times more valuable than Lyft, as are Ford and GM, who are hungry for autonomous driving experience and IP. Expect many acquisition attempts this year, accompanied by headlines that the FTC is “reviewing it.”

2023 Tech of the Year: AI

Like Web3 last year, artificial intelligence is on track to be the most hyped technology of 2023. Unlike Web3, however, AI will (mostly) live up to the hype. We’ve already witnessed the immense capabilities of image- and text-generating AI programs, including Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and ChatGPT. I wrote a post a few weeks ago showcasing the expansion of AI capabilities. An influx of capital and attention in 2023 will accelerate the category’s growth.

Streaming Consolidates

The past decade in streaming has been a nonstop champagne-and-cocaine party where the numerical direction of content budgets, deal sizes, and stock prices was up and to the right. Until this year. Since December 2021, Netflix’s stock price is off 60%, bringing the rest of the streaming market down with it. For consumers, there are too many choices — both in terms of platforms (the average U.S. household now uses five streaming services) and programming (the average Netflix user spends 18 minutes searching for something new to watch). The space has gotten too crowded, and it will tighten.

As in tech, activist investors will rattle media cages. I’d bet Warner Brothers Discovery is put in play by the end of the year. HBO remains the premier artisanal content creator — garnering nearly three times the Emmys per dollar spent than Netflix, and four times as many as newcomer Apple. It’s a crown jewel in search of a suitable crown.

U.S. Reasserts Dominance

The Situation Room and Tucker Carlson are incentivized to tell us “America is awful, news at 11.” Their apocalyptic vision is misguided, bordering on delusional, as we are in a position of strength relative to our global peers:  Over the past two years our stock market has outperformed China’s by 30%. Our inflation rate, while high, is nowhere near those of European nations including Germany (10%+), the U.K. (11%+), and Italy (12%+). We are energy and food independent and have again demonstrated our mastery of the world’s master: technology (see above: re-creating the sun). Nobody is lining up for Chinese or Russian vaccines. The U.S. has pledged $47 billion in military aid to Ukraine, greater than the combined contribution of every other country. 

Aid to Ukraine will be the best trade of 2023. For only 6% of our defense budget we continue to repel an enemy and signal to the world the United States of America is (again) an ally without equal. As Elton John reminds us on his seventh “Farewell” tour: The bitch is back.

2023

I hope 2023 brings you health, prosperity, time with loved ones, and the presence to appreciate all three.

Life is so rich,

P.S. I’m teaching the Business Strategy Sprint again in January. If you want a taste before becoming a member, you can watch the first lesson here.

66 comments

  1. van gogh says:

    One thing any business strategist of merit does is stick to what they know. You clearly don’t know jackshit about international aids and how they are being used. So, don’t write about it. If you want to wave your flag, just add a flag emoji and people will understand what type of professor you are.

  2. Quinn says:

    I found the TikTok vs. Streaming Preference fascinating and would love to read more. Where can I find the Consumer Trends Survey?

  3. Erika says:

    Very interesting, I would like to receive more information from you

  4. Christopher says:

    Nice, interesting and THANK YOU for sharing your thoughts!

    • Visakh says:

      I really liked your comparison on Tesla’s valuation as compared to an emerging competition and think there is a similar story to the EV landscape across India and its subcontinent. Thanks for sharing these thoughts

  5. Catherine says:

    Wonderful writing, you completely suspended my disbelief I was reading predictions, I feel like we are in the web you wove. More on AI? Metaverse? Media? And we are energy independent and food independent? I see so many imports from Mexico, other countries in the aisles surrounding package goods so perhaps I am mis seeing the reality of my local groceries. I really look forward to watching all these paths unfold, thank you.

  6. Matches says:

    Are you married to Monica?

  7. Melanie says:

    I get it, tech workers are coddled. Hey, I’m old enough to remember when Pet Bereavement was not a standard perk of employment. But maybe you could try to be a little more compassionate to the thousands of folks getting laid off, many of them early in their career? I understand it’s a small sector of the economy. But I’ve been laid off twice in the first dot com bubble. And while I landed on my feet, as I’m sure they will, it wasn’t fun. No need to joke about it so callously.

  8. Manas Mahodaya says:

    Wow, i was introduced to you by an old colleague cum friend Nabh Gupta from India. It’s an honor reading your article and feeling blessed, the reality which i had an impression but you said it bang on sir, if i may call you.

    You can follow back @introducejobs or @manasmahodaya on your favourite social channel. I would to hear from you on my blog.

    Thank you,
    Manas ( friends call me Sam)

  9. Maryna says:

    Insightful and realistic. Thank you!

  10. Peter Bohrmann says:

    “In London every other car is an EV.” I believe that this is inaccurate and not close to being correct. From what I have been able to find, 25% of new registrations are EVs. Correction please, if I am correct.

  11. Kyle Byron says:

    Um… why isn’t our Ukraine military spend $270 billion? What, we have to practice fiscal conservancy when the invading Russians are daily raping, torturing, and killing children? Oh I’m sorry – did I trigger somebody?

  12. Ilia Sybil Sdralli says:

    Excellent insights! I also wonder how luxury fashion brands plan to navigate the upcoming recession..

  13. Jonathan says:

    It’s worth mentioning here, we spent about ~$20 billion per year in air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan. For US aid in the equivalent of 2 years and 3 months of air conditioning, the Ukrainians have halted the Russian advance and pushed them back on several fronts with over 100,000 russian casualties and over 8,000 tanks, planes, trucks, cannons etc destroyed/captured. The aid has been used efficiently

  14. Dog Poop 101 says:

    LOL I can see 178th Air Wing painting “The Bitch is Back” on their Predator Drones “The Bitch is Back” indeed!

  15. Greg says:

    Great predictions as always. And Happy New Year
    Small addition to the chart about Ukraine showing how much Europe as an institution stepped up for once, in addition to single countries
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/1303432/total-bilateral-aid-to-ukraine/

  16. Marco Cavallo says:

    You’re the best! Happy 2023!

  17. Mmatu says:

    Cheer to 2023. ThX, Scott.

  18. Frank says:

    I found myself both smiling and nodding as I read this… thanks for your combo of insight+humor+acumen… will continue to stop whatever I am doing to read your posts. Cheers

  19. Thomas Corbi says:

    Have not finished reading your books… But *IMHO*: The trifecta merger is = DIS (for content and brand) + META (for buzz and infrastructure) + U (for skills and technology). So consult and make-it-so… Good cooking is all about the right ingredients.

    • Rob says:

      I spent a while puzzling over this, and I think they’re advocating a merger between Disney, Meta and Uber. Though it’s hard to say; perhaps it’s AI generated!

  20. Louis Gordon says:

    Well done. I don’t think I’ve read a post from you that’s been so insightful *and* entertaining at the same time. Thanks for keeping it politics-free. I hope that’s a big trend for 2023.

  21. Geo says:

    Well we also need to mention short sellers have made $15B shorting Tesla. And that all car manufacturers are down GM and Ford are down 45-55% YTd. One has to wonder how much Short and Distort is going on? Illegal if anyone is.

  22. Jim says:

    Your comment about History vs Hallmark Channel is spot on. To my mind, the value of predictions like these is less about their absolute accuracy and more about providing a broader context for what lies ahead. History is all about putting the pieces together.

  23. siva says:

    I do not agree on your point of aid to Ukraine.You are fueling a war instead of finding a solution . After sometime it will engulf the region and push the world into inflation and shortages

    • Kirk says:

      Anybody looking for “solution” to this war is responsible for more deaths. Russia only understands violence, so the solution is 5X increase in modern weapons supply. Current support is not enough by a large margin.

  24. EdK says:

    Thank you for not mentioning Republicans, Democrats, or Trump.
    Rapid change just ahead- let’s work to keep our democracy.

  25. Boi says:

    You’re delusional

  26. Ozzie says:

    Scott, thank you for the joy of reading your post and listening to your podcast. Looking forward in 2023 to your insighful commentary. May 2023 bring a lot of Joy and Blessing to you and your teams. LIfe is so Rich!

  27. Mike Edwards says:

    Always right on point Scott!

  28. Jarvis says:

    When did the US become energy independent?

  29. Barry T says:

    Great take as always my man! Note – more retail/restaurant merchant teams are moving to AI/Algorithms towards making ‘more decisions out of sight’ – a massive change.

  30. Joe Petrides says:

    I had to stop following you on twitter due to the incessant Elon Derangement Syndrome you seemed to have developed. This kind of article is really outstanding, though and I’m going to keep reading. Wonderful article and I too wish you well this year.

  31. Thiago Liguori says:

    The best read to start 2023! Prof G predictions are better (and more entertaining) than any JP Morgan, Goldman sachs report you could find! About Alphabet, I believe it will be hit harder, since TikTok is shaking search and OpenAI has proven to beat any google product to date.

  32. Adrian Tan says:

    Thanks Prof. And I also like to predict that 2023 will be your best year ever.

  33. Francois says:

    I’m surprised to not see France as one of the major contributors to Ukraine.

  34. Whoa! says:

    The reason Google has to keep buying employees? Ex-Googlers…
    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/technology-63130364.amp

  35. Aaron Belsh says:

    This is great. Thanks for sharing. I think you have a lot of this spot-on. We’ll see.

  36. robin shuster says:

    But look at percentage aid to Ukraine by GDP: US is not at the top

    https://www.statista.com/statistics/1303450/bilateral-aid-to-ukraine-in-a-percent-of-donor-gdp/

  37. John Partridge says:

    Hi Scott,
    On one of your shows could you talk about small next generation nuclear companies like x-energy? Also Boom Supersonic? Thanks😊

  38. Edward K says:

    Western Europe has been riding the Pax Americana. Their military contribution has always been miniscule. Ukraine no surprise.You would think they would have clamored for those Syrian refugees to revitalize their decay.

  39. Anthony Alfidi says:

    Interesting thoughts here. Disagree with growth prospects for Airbnb, as travelers are running out of patience with random landlords’ poor facilities and lack of security.

    • Sandy Laube says:

      I wouldn’t take that bet. Well heeled travelers are still very under served by traditional hotels. If you want a bedroom separate from the living area and a basic kitchen then you are most likely booking an Airbnb.

      Reviews will winnow out the low end of offerings.

      • Nina says:

        AirBnb works well for families that want to serve homecooked food to their kids. For singles, couples or friends traveling together, hotels make more sense. I don’t have a laundry list of things to do for my host.

  40. David says:

    An in educated person’s question: if as you say, the USA is energy independent then why are our, energy prices, gas at the pump, etc, subject to global market factors? Please take this question up in your podcast.

    • Alfred says:

      Great question. We are *net* energy independent. Our oil producers are still allowed to export and our distributors are allowed to import. This means we are still exposed to global prices. However, the amount we export is greater than the amount we import thus we are a net exporter.

  41. Charles Wahab says:

    I think one sector to mention is what will happen to the Fintech space – with my opinion being a consolidation and cleanup of BNPL and Payments companies that have unrealistic valuations to go along with unprofitable margins with the end of the super cycle of cheap money and already rising borrowing costs.

  42. JohnR says:

    “Aid to Ukraine will be the best trade of 2023.“
    I know we are warmongers, but this is truly sick. We need to stop this proxy war NOW!

  43. Margaret Biner says:

    Scott, you have identified a major problem, not just in the US, but globally as well. Top management in tech and finance don’t know their industrial history. When someone (like you) tries to warn them they pooh-pooh it. Many believe things have always been this way or they say the times are very different and old thinking isn’t helpful. Experience helps make wisdom for sure. But a careful examination of past events and consequences is helpful. Not knowing nor caring about what has happened before leads to surprise when it could have led to preparation. It’s been noted that business problems don’t happen because of decisions in bad times, rather they reflect poor decisions in good times. Thank you for your insights. I truly hope the people who need to listen understand them and prepare for the outcomes.

  44. Tony says:

    Ahhhh, thanks for the fresh air. Interesting point on China tech stocks to watch. With Microsoft’s investment in OpenAI and foregone conclusion that ChatGPT will duck behind a pay wall, I’m curious to see what Alphabet rolls out for consumer AI tools.

  45. Susan Kelly says:

    On a recent profG podcast you predicted housing prices will come down, allowing younger people into the real estate market. And yet your #1 advertiser is AirBandB. The damage it has caused to many tourist towns across Canada is unbelievable. People buy up houses, for vacation rentals, pushing up the value, and pushing out the local young people who can no longer afford to live in these communities. And another result, businesses can’t find workers.

  46. C Cook says:

    Prediction as we head into a Recession next year.
    Many young ‘wokes’, realizing they are broke for a reason, will turn on those smarter or with inherited wealth who utilize their MBA acquired ‘brand management’ skills. Colleges ripped them off, MSM pundits ripped them off, BLM ripped them off, and manipulated emotions learned by their peers in MBA programs, ripped them off.
    But, those in academia and CNN/MSM will maintain arrogance and put the blame on political right, Capitalism, and ‘big business’.

    • Michael says:

      I share some of you contempt for wokeness for its own stake, but you are painting with a pretty broad and poorly constructed brush. What part of the recession is being cause by liberal MBA students or recent college graduates in general? The fact that this generation will not do better than the previous ones, has more to do with failures and selfishness of the boomers (of both sides of the political isle) than it does will them. I might point you to the crazy hubby liberalism of the 60’s. Those folk cut there hair, went to wall street. The boomer (including me) reaped and reaped and reaped, but not so much sowing. In one small example, went to college tuition at a good state school was like $500 a semester. I DO think we have gotten too focused on 4 year colleges being the only way and the academic world has made some well-intended but misguided liberal lurches, but let’s not collective trash a generation because we made higher ed unaffordable. Most contemporary, non-wartime generations are deemed, lazy, liberal and unrealistic by their parent’s generation. We live in a great (far from perfect) nation where many of us have the luxury to worry about such things.

      • Michael says:

        Sorry for not proof reading. And C Cook, my intention was not to disrespect you. I just think of all the people to blame for our financial or political troubles, maybe our children aren’t the best choice. They have not been making the decisions.

  47. Seniors for a Democratic Society says:

    A loaded newsletter exceedingly well said…

  48. Doug says:

    Awesome. Thanks.

  49. Erica F says:

    Your comment on the coming attempts-at-consolidation and just hearing “FTC is looking into it” reminded me that it appears as though the FTC and Justice Dept are getting much more aggressive (compared to the past ~20ish years?) on antitrust. I mean, they (shockingly) put the kibosh on the Albertsons/Kroger merger – at least for now. And although there are significant allowances for Big Tech to still be the monopolies they are – thanks Schumer, Congress just passed the most significant antitrust legislation since 1976 as part of the recent spending bill.

    All this being said, it seems like the gubmint is gonna roll over on proposed mergers, a LOT less frequently going forward. Let us all hope!

    If this topic interests you, I must highly recommend this excellent newsletter, “BIG,” about monopolies, by Matt Stoller: https://mattstoller.substack.com

  50. Vasie says:

    This was truly excellent. Thank you.

  51. David says:

    Truly your best email of the year
    Enjoy UK