Wed, Jul

Assume the brace position

2012 will be a rocky ride for many so taking early protective measures might make sense. Walter Hale looks at the key trends to help you prepare

The future isn't what it used to be. Predictions of personal jet packs, the leisure society (which was supposed to be a state of idle, contented affluence rather than the dismal spectre of mass unemployment), and the abolition of illness have given away to dark warnings of economic turmoil, environmental catastrophe and even an apocalyptic ending to 2012. It’s at times like this you wonder, as the humourist Will Rogers used to say, “if stupidity got us into this mess, why can’t it get us out of it?”

The correct posture with which to greet 2012 is probably the protective brace position as depicted on airline safety cards. For managing directors, the biggest opportunity in 2012 will be to show the kind of grace under pressure that would have impressed Ernest Hemingway. But here are nine trends to watch out for.


Even Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, whose forecasts have erred on the side of optimism, is predicting only 0.7% growth in the UK economy in 2012. (The Economist Intelligence Unit is predicting 3.3% growth in global GDP.) With austerity measures biting, the public mood turning sour and the Eurozone in crisis, the government does not expect the British economy to recover to its 2008 level until the middle of 2014, which would make this recession much longer than the contraction we used to call the Great Depression (which lasted from 1930 to 1933). Many analysts say the recovery will be a long, costly, war of attrition against debt – and not the bracing bounce back we saw in the early 1990s. The biggest question mark is the outlook for the euro and the Eurozone. Luckily, businesses have been pretty pessimistic for a while now and the rainy day money they have saved – by trimming stocks, postponing investment and not hiring – now accounts for over 4% of UK GDP. That is some cushion. Falling inflation will make it easier for the Bank of England to boost the money supply through quantitative easing.


In the UK, three one-off factors could lighten the national mood. An extra day’s bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee in June (watch out for a fleet of around 1000 vessels sailing along the Thames), the Three Lions’ campaign at the Euro 2012 football championships (after decades of underperformance, the law of averages suggests England are due a decent tournament) and a morale-raising Olympics during which Team GB wins tons of medals, events are well staged and the public transport system doesn’t spectacularly implode. Other random good news ahead: mobile phone giants may finally develop a standardized handset charger, a new power assisted robotic suit (yours for just $11,000) will help alleviate aches and strains by correcting itself to, for example, support our aching backs if we bend over at work and the Protection Of Freedoms Bill, which should become law in 2012, will shrivel DNA databases, regulate CCTV and extend freedom-of-information access.


The prognosis for retailers, who buy a lot of wide-format print, will be as changeable as the weather. The headline gloom may not always be matched by the facts. An FT round-up of results and announcements from 24 UK retailers found that revenues were up at Sports Direct, like-for-like sales increased at Morrisons and J Sainsbury, profits rose at Asos, House Of Fraser, Kingfisher and WH Smith and JD Sports and Next was confident it would meet its full-year forecasts. True, there were losses at Dixons, JJD, Kesa, and Mothercare and falling profits at Carphone Warehouse and Marks and Spencer but the real picture is far more varied than the headlines suggest. The media (Image Reports apart of course!) will continue to look for signs of deepening recession with the obsessive enthusiasm of a hopeless hypochondriac searching for symptoms of imminent ill-health. The media will be aided in his process by Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, who will issue more stark warnings of doom in the next 12 months than Private Fraser managed in 80 episodes of Dad’s Army. The uncertainty will be global, with the US facing the most divisive presidential election since 1860, China anointing new leaders in October, Nicolas Sarkozy seeking a second term and Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency looking far less of a sure thing than it did a few weeks ago..


Many of the expensive, mega-acquisitions and mergers financed at the height of the Noughties boom will need refinancing in the next two years. The banks, already under pressure from regulators may struggle to cope although the political pressure on them to be helpful, especially to small businesses, will remain strong. Yet Ibrahim Aziz, boss of accountancy practice Numerion Associates predicts: “Access to private funding will see enormous growth in 2012 as more people consider alternatives to placing their funds in bank deposit accounts where inflation is eroding the capital value. Look, for example, at Funding Circle [which facilitates peer-to-peer lending to businesses].” Entrepreneurial wannabes will also be cheered by the government’s decision to expand the Enterprise Investment Scheme.


Not the sitcom, but the physical space where so many of us work. Woody Allen famously said that 80% of success was just turning up. That will be truer than ever in 2012. The virtual office hasn’t quite lived up its transformational, liberating promise. With travel budgets shrinking, insecurity deepening, and firms focusing ever more relentlessly on white collar productivity, managers will feel safest at their desks. Issuing emails with the tagline “Sent from my iPad” will, in the context of the new frugality, seem about as tasteful as boasting that you’ve just done 120mph on the M1 in your new Ferrari.


Sometime in2012 Facebook will welcome its billionth member. The numbers provide the opportunity for these networks to innovate and extend their remit. For example, Domino’s Pizza hired a large billboard in New York’s Times Square last summer to post unfiltered customer feedback as part of a marketing campaign. Prepare yourself for what David Armano, executive vice-president of global innovation at communications group Edelman Digital, calls “the cult of influence”. A company called Klout has set out to quantify how much digital influence we have, so the race is on. Managers, staff and companies will be keen to prove they have digital influence and discover how that can be harnessed.


In 2012, our wallets may well get slimmer – but not for the reason you might think. It is easier to pay for a taxi fare with your mobile phone in Nairobi than in London. Kenya has become a world leader in mobile payments, which many use as a form of currency without having to go to an ATM, owning a debit card or even having a bank account. M-commerce is expected to double its reach by 2013. Google has already announced a Wallett app for Sprint’s 4G phone. Expect Apple and others to launch mobile payment products in 2012.


British businesses will focus more sharply on their energy bills in 2012. In part, this will reflect the government’s forthcoming Green Deal (which will enable businesses to make their premises more energy efficient – but pay for the outlay out of future savings). But it will also be driven by the growing realisation that this is a relatively painless way of cutting costs. For example, just a one centigrade reduction in temperature in your workplace could slash your energy costs by 8%.


It is true that the Mayan long-count period ends on 21 December 2012. But the calendar for the next Mayan cycle starts on 1 January 2013. The apocalyptic predictions were originally inspired by claims that Nibiru, a planet allegedly discovered by the ancient Sumerians, was headed to Earth. At first, it was supposed to collide with the planet we call home in May 2003. When that didn’t happen, the doomsday date was moved to 21 December 2012, which does mark the end of a cycle in the ancient Mayan calendar but not an end in the world. NASA says the 2012 apocalypse will be an even bigger anti-climax than the Y2K bug.


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