In a shifting economy, who wins and who loses?
Something I learned in algebra class was when faced with a problem, the fewer variables there are, the easier it is to solve. Businesses across our nation face a multitude of challenges right now. Supply-chain failures, employment shortages and rising costs are just a few of the obstacles they are attempting to overcome.
Because of these conditions, many businesses have been forced to close their doors forever, and many more likely will. I would argue the business owners who find success will be the ones best able to eliminate as many of these variables as they can. In my opinion, the most likely candidate for businesses to address in this post-pandemic world is the human variable.
How much will an employee cost? How likely will they remain with the company once fully trained? What impact will they have on the overall culture of the company? What will happen if they are not able, or permitted to come to work for health-related reasons? These are all questions an employer must answer before choosing to hire a person. But what if a business owner could eliminate these variables by simply removing the human from the equation? I believe that is a tempting proposition that many business owners large and small are now considering.
Amazon recently began opening unmanned grocery stores in select cities. These stores, called “Go” stores, require customers to check in using the Amazon app before entering the store. Using high-tech cameras and the personal information provided through the check-in process, customers are tracked throughout the aisles as they shop. When finished the customer simply exits the store and everything they took with them is charged to their Amazon account. Even the restocking of the retail locations is done primarily through robotics. While this is an extreme example of reducing human workers, all you have to do is visit a local Walmart or a McDonald's to see that automation is the wave of the future.
One of the things we like to do in our office is examine problems we currently face as a nation and then try to identify potential winners and losers that will result from the problem’s solution. For example, in early 2020 those with the foresight to recognize the impact COVID would have on industries such as retail, tourism and communications likely purchased stocks related to online shopping and digital communications, and dropped stocks connected to brick-and-mortar businesses and travel. Those who did so were likely rewarded with better-than-average portfolio performance.
Moving forward in this new scenario of widespread automation that I think is coming, who wins who loses? Obviously, software developers and robotics companies are likely to thrive. But who else? I would argue as unskilled labor positions become more and more obsolete, workers will be forced to acquire new skills to compete. Trade schools offering marketable skills are likely to see large increases in enrollment of those seeking to adapt to this changing world.
In my opinion, the role of government is also likely to expand greatly during this time. Because of this, industries highly reliant on government contracts are likely to do well. Arms manufacturers, construction companies and health-care providers are just a few of those likely to prosper.
Sadly, as many are unable or unwilling to adapt to these changes, vice industries such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling are also likely to thrive as displaced workers seek an escape from their bleak circumstances. This may also result in rising crime, causing an uptick in demand for the products security and personal protection companies produce.
This may all sound very depressing and dystopic, but remember the same Chinese word for crises can also mean opportunity, the only difference being the perspective of the person using it. At all times in human history advancing technology has only made the quality of life for individuals better, and my hope would be these changes produce similar results and things only get better for those who prepare for it.
(Past performance is no guarantee of future results. The advice is general in nature and not intended for specific situations,)
Luke Davis is the director of operations and compliance at Stewardship Capital in Independence.