by Tony Copple

One of the secrets of successful business is to identify major social and economic trends, and ideally position yourself or your business to take advantage of two or more converging trends. Reference books on trends include: The Lexus and the Olive Tree, by Thomas L Friedman, about globalization, The Popcorn Report - Faith Popcorn; and on demographics: The Age Wave - Ken Dychtwald; Boom, Bust and Echo - David Foot, a Canadian bestseller and David Cork wrote "The Pig and the Python." The 90 million baby boomers in North America may be forgiven for triggering these last three books about themselves. On the web, Informetrica, a Canadian company specializing in economic forecasting, and reporting on US economic trends likely to influence the markets, may help you discern key trends. In 2010 the Ottawa law firm Gowlings launched TrendWatch to indicate some finance and law trends.

Extrapolating trends and using some imagination can allow you to peek into the future.

In 2020 the Economist published "On the Edge of a Precipice" - A challenging decade is upon us. Read it here.

In ~2010 I had published my own assessment of trends on this page gathered from multiple sources and my own gut feel. Here's what I wrote. As an exercise to the student, see how many trends the Economist has identified in 2020 can be detected 10 years before.

  • Market research from web search statistics: Hitwise;   I Love Data   Google Trends
  • The rise of prosumers - blending production and consuming, which can be traced back to the Linux operating system constructed by volunteer users and now heavily used worldwide.
  • Globalization: the unstoppable movement triggered by the microprocessor. The continued globalization of trade, and accessibility of the Global Market to small business (and individuals) via e-commerce are key factors reducing distinctions between geographical markets, resulting in inexorable trends in business and politics that countries have to join in with or risk economic isolation.
  • Nine things that will dissappear in our lifetime.
  • Western civilization: decline - or fall? by John Maudlin, 5 Mar 2012
  • The movement away from traditional employment to (home) business ownership, including network marketing (MLM);
  • Fortune 500 companies now represent less than 10% of the US economy, and big business is less trusted in the wake of Enron and Worldcom.
  • Communication and electronics technology shrinking the world; Cell phones are invading the third world instead of wired phones, and are already cheaper to operate than a wired phone even in Canada;
  • Investment asset allocation segmenting asset classes more into international business sectors (ignoring country boundaries) and less into geographical sectors;
  • The nineties was the first decade of relative world peace, following 50 years of war and cold war. Arms spending was way down.
  • Terrorism is spreading - it's cheap. It could replace the cold war.
  • MRP production control software making a major impact on manufacturing, allowing "just-in-time" materials scheduling and consequent reduction in inventories;
  • Peak oil.
  • Low interest rates for a few years yet as the boomers invest for retirement;
  • Governments borrowing less; shortages in government bonds; deficits disappearing and debt shrinking in the first world, while rising in the third world;
  • Falling real estate prices, as the baby boomers have long since purchased their homes. Property values falling, and a glut of properties on the market when the boomers sell their homes. Note that in some markets today including high-tech areas such as Ottawa there appears to be an opposite trend with prices rising as people move into such areas. However this trend will be overshadowed by the previous one in the longer term.
  • Continued rises in personal debt (encouraged by the credit card companies), working against RRSP savings, and encouraging catch-up loans. (Might the government reduce carry forward to reduce their exposure should the public decide to contribute a lot more than the current maximum RRSP contribution level?)
  • Transfer of $1-trillion inheritances to the boomers. Note that the taxes on death of the benefactors of this huge sum exceed the complete national debt, which is measured in billions. Estate planners will be in increasing demand by people aware that they can compensate for these taxes;
  • Rising stock and bond prices as these same boomers stash away their cash in the only sectors of the investment spectrum which are producing a decent return. This trend was artificially boosted in the nineties by too much enthusiasm for growth-style stocks, and may be far more modest in the new millennium.
  • The leading edge of the baby boomers reached age 65 in 2010. Could this signal large outflows of cash from both stocks and bonds as they fund their retirement income simultaneously, or will it be offset by their inheritances from their parents.
  • As pension plans become rarer, many high earning baby boomers who don't have them are being irresponsible with spending, failing to plan for lenghening retirement spans, and will end up as the nouveau pauvre;
  • Rising markets in the short term could be followed by falling markets as those same boomers turn their investments into cash. In fact many may be destitute in retirement as the equity investments they embraced in the nineties fall as a result of large-scale redemptions.
  • Awareness that health is a personal responsibility, and you can take control of it and optimize wellness, as long as you start a new lifestyle early. But many more will need curative therapies than can be economically provided. Healthcare spending will continue to rise as the baby boomers look after their own. Watch the medical sciences industry grow. Life insurers now recognize Healthstyles in their underwriting.
  • The boom in urban farming, making farming the largest industry in some cities; can be more cost effective and efficient than rural farming.
  • The Internet explosion, and particularly E-Commerce, and particularly on-line stock trading which is obsoleting traditional stock markets.
  • Growth of Christianity worldwide (see Alpha), particularly in Africa and the third world;
  • The Beatles becoming even more popular while most of their successors in the pop music industry will fade from memory;
  • The green (environmental) revolution and anti-drink, anti-tobacco lobby encouraging investment in ethical funds;
  • Digital photography eclipsing regular photography;
  • Restructuring of industry, particularly the retail distribution industry, cutting out the middle man with e-commerce and network marketing.
  • Expect the current figure of 62% of the population who are either dead or dead broke by age 65 to remain constant. People will continue to misinterpret the economy, save rather than invest, and try to do it all themselves.

One of the most well known trends is inflation. Some trends have defied inflation. Take the average cost of processing bank transactions in $US in 2001, according to the Progress and Freedom Foundation.
    $1.07: through a bank teller (this has been clearly subject to inflation)
    $0.52: by telephone
    $0.27: via an ATM
    $0.01: over the Internet. This has countered inflation grandly. Yet the world wide web began only in 1990. Who knows what progress could be achieved in the next decade!

Trends are often caused by demographics: a change in the structure of populations. The striking example is the progress of the baby boomer generation: those born between 1946 and 1964 numbering ten million in Canada and a third of all Americans. They have spawned a succession of industries from baby foods via schools building to the real estate boom (and high interest rates) of the '80s. To position your business in the path of baby boomer needs is to accelerate your growth far beyond rates that would result from good products and good management alone. In the next decade the 50 - 60 age-group will increase by 40%. As the baby boomers turn 50, many of their needs will stabilize for 30 years as successive boomers arrive at their half century, all wanting the same things. For starters:

  • They want to stay looking young, and keep ill-health at bay (and use viagra if necessary);
  • They want the music of their youth (eg. Beatles, Rolling Stones);
  • They need to invest for retirement (better late than never);
  • They want to cruise, fly, tour, everywhere and anywhere, and will not be deterred by recent setbacks in the airline industry;
  • In retirement, they will need to have amassed very large capital from business or investment. If they have merely been "saving" they will likely face large financial shortfalls.
So they are changing from spenders to savers (keeping interest rates down), and they want investment advice.

Provide them with what they want, and you catch the biggest trends of all. Choose a career that services their needs, and prosper.

The financial services industry has a vested interest in being up with trends, to assist clients with investment decisions. There are many web sites devoted to providing such information, for example:

Some of the above trends are examined by Robert Kiyosaki in his book Rich Dad's Prophecy.

  • Once upon a time
  • Personal Financial Planning taking account of the above trends.

    Page updated 14 January 2020