Ten Likely Events in 2008
by BW Staff
Move over, Nostradamus. When it comes to prognostications, we here at BusinessWeek take a backseat to no one—especially when there's zero money on the line.
BusinessWeek writers and editors put our eggnog-addled minds together and envisaged 10 events we're pretty sure will come to pass in the next 12 months. Maybe it's our natural tendency to see the cloud around every silver lining, but we can't help but think some of the notable "movements" of 2007—full-blare touting of corporate green credentials and social networks, to name two—will run their course in 2008. Oil bulls will have their way. Airlines will lie down together in green meadows. You get the picture.
Of course, if we really knew what was going to happen, we would start one of those fancy hedge funds. And yes, we knew they were going to run into trouble last year. But we can't tip everything, can we? Then there would be nothing to write about.
There will be a backlash in the green movement after it becomes clear that many of the companies claiming to be green are in fact nothing of the sort. Businesses that proclaim they are "carbon neutral" will find that such proclamations no longer carry much weight among far more skeptical media and consumers.
Airline Consolidation Begins
At least one major U.S. airline will buy another in 2008. The most likely scenario is that Delta Air Lines (DAL) will go after Northwest Airlines (NWA), United Airlines (UAUA), or JetBlue Airways (JBLU). When that happens, others will scramble to cut their own deals. Certainly, no airline wants to be left stranded as a solo operator if Clinton or Obama ends up in the White House and taps the brakes on industry consolidation. The main drivers for such combinations will be the shabby finances many companies will see in 2008 and the argument that the U.S. economy and business require a healthier industry. What's more, airlines that restructured in bankruptcy have some new private equity and hedge fund owners that will demand returns.
Bloomberg's Historic Run
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will enter the Presidential race in February, after it becomes clear which nominees will get the nod from the major parties. His multiple billions and organization will impress voters—and stun rivals. He'll look like the most viable third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt. But Bloomberg will come up short, as he comes in for withering attacks from both Democrats and Republicans. He and Clinton will split more than 50% of the votes, but Arizona's maverick senator, John McCain, will end up the country's next President.
The music industry is in crisis. The key reason is that CD sales are plummeting. Now, it's going to get worse. This year, the most important retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY), will look to radically downsize their CD sections. Perhaps there will be no more than one aisle, chock-full of mainstream pop titles. Digital music will continue to grow in influence, from iTunes (AAPL) and Amazon.com (AMZN) to ad-supported site such as imeem and fast-growing upstarts like Pitchfork.
Social network fatigue will set in as people tire of getting yet another invitation from so-called friends to join yet another social network. And, in the wake of Facebook's fumbled social ads initiative, it will become even more apparent there's no obvious way to pitch products on these sites without turning off members. Social features will wend their way into all kinds of Web services, from search to news, but the gold rush in social networks themselves will begin to wane.
Finally, Internet TV
For years, gearheads have dreamed of getting all that video from the Internet onto the big 52-inch screen in the den. But it's a pain. Look for that to change in 2008. While Apple TV has been a dud, Steve Jobs & Co. will make an aggressive play this year for the most important screen in the house. Perhaps Apple will even make a gorgeous TV itself, with all the necessary Net capabilities inside. And if Apple can't do it, someone else will.
The Biggest Bribe Penalty Ever
German electronics giant Siemens (SI) will agree to pay more than $1 billion in fines to avoid prosecution by the Securities & Exchange Commission and the U.S. Justice Dept. on charges it paid hundreds of millions in bribes to win foreign contracts. The fine will shatter the previous record fine under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Siemens will also agree to allow compliance monitors to set up shop in its Munich headquarters to ensure the company has cleaned up its act.
Web Crash 2.0
If a recession finally hits, Web 2.0 companies will find there are neither enough ad dollars out there for all of them to survive on, nor enough big corporate buyers such as Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), and traditional media companies to buy them all out. What's more, venture capitalists may decide that momentum looks better for clean-tech investments than for Web startups that depend on a cyclical business like advertising. So more will join the "DeadPool," as the Web startup blog TechCrunch calls its list of failed companies.
Crude Oil Will Top $100
When will the world see $100-per-barrel oil? Paul Horsnell, head of commodities research at London-based Barclays Capital (BCS), is betting that 2008 will be the year. Horsnell thinks the prediction is a slam dunk, though he doesn't believe $100-per-barrel oil itself has any great significance. Horsnell bases his prediction on broad fundamentals in the industry, which he says are reflected in the behavior of the futures curve for oil prices. Despite six years of rising prices, demand continues to grow—especially in China and the oil-rich Middle East—while new supplies have been disappointing. These are key reasons that futures prices for oil five to seven years out have been moving steadily up in recent years to the $85-per-barrel range at present. Horsnell believes that such prices, which attract relatively little press coverage, are a proxy for long-term, sustainable oil prices. At the same time, the near-term prices, which do get people's attention, have been very volatile, ranging all the way from $50 per barrel to almost $100 per barrel in 2007.
Big Brother Fears Return
For a decade, a Net-happy world has cheerfully shared personal information online, with relatively little mainstream concern over privacy. Now, the issue may come to the fore, as carriers and cable companies deploy click-tracking software and publicity about China's Olympian Internet oversight leaks into the news.