What’s Ahead for the Major Global Industries in 2021

It’s safe to say that 2020 was a year unlike any other. As we all know so well, Covid-19 has been the story of the year. Beyond the staggering human toll, the pandemic has utterly transformed virtually every industry and sector. 

It is always difficult to make forecasts about the year ahead. That being said, The Economist Intelligence Unit, has put together a report that provides its outlook for six major industries in 2021. Those 6 major industries are:

  1. Automotive
  2. Consumer goods and retail
  3. Energy 
  4. Finance
  5. Healthcare
  6. Telecoms 

Considering the events of the past year, we will take a closer look at what’s ahead for these important sectors. While these predictions may not play out as completely as expected, it gives us a clearer picture of the trends, risks, and potential opportunities ahead of us as we move towards 2021.

Overall Global Findings

Before diving into the individual sectors, it is worth going over the overall findings for the global economy in 2021.

Not surprisingly, the economic turmoil that encompassed 2020 will extend into next year. Regardless of additional economic stimulus packages, job losses and bankruptcies will continue into the new year. We will also likely see more international trade disputes. The U.S.-China relationship will remain rocky even under a Biden administration, which could have a large impact on telecom companies. Governments looking to spur growth will be more inclined to invest in green projects, providing a tailwind to certain companies in the energy sector and a headwind for certain auto companies. Last (but certainly not least), the digital economy will only continue to accelerate, meaning that all companies must consider how they can leverage an increasingly digital world.

Really, these broad macroeconomic trends show that 2021 will be a year of transition. Even though there is likely more economic pain ahead, both companies and governments are moving quickly to respond to accelerated trends (like digitization and the Green economy) and realigned incentives. While global GDP will be significantly higher than this year, it won’t be enough to make up for the massive deceleration that we saw in 2020.

Outlook at a glance

  • Automotive, retail, and energy sectors will be hit the hardest, while telecoms and healthcare will experience a smoother recovery
  • Asia will bounce back more rapidly, while Latin America & Africa will take the longest to recover. Growth can only be expected in emerging markets by 2024
  • Full recovery cannot be predicted until at least 2022 for North America

Automotive

Looking at the auto industry, some positive sales trends are forecasted for 2021. For instance, global new-vehicle sales are expected to hit double digits. More specifically, we can expect a 15% increase in new passenger vehicle sales and a 16% increase in commercial vehicle sales. Overall a solid recovery is expected for the industry, however, it will not be able to compensate for the damage of the past year. The primary reason for these positive figures is just how bad the decline was in 2020. That being said, China, Turkey, Taiwan, and Ukraine are the only countries that are expected to surpass 2019 annual vehicle sales. Their ability to outperform sales is mostly due to a declining market pre-pandemic, making their numbers more favorable since the 2019 base is lower.

Along with a bounce in vehicle sales is the continued importance of electric vehicles (“EVs”). While the rise of EVs is occurring around the world, it is particularly profound in Europe. Tax credits and other subsidies will continue to galvanize EV adoption, but China is trimming back EV incentives.

Finally, Covid-19 has caused automakers to take a much closer look at their supply chains. This issue is particularly relevant to China, as both the U.S. and China continue to battle on auto part tariffs and new technologies. With restructuring and bankruptcies becoming more prevalent among OEMs and auto parts suppliers, automakers will be closely looking at optimizing their supply chains.

Consumer Goods and Retail

In the world of consumer goods and retail, a tepid 3% rise in worldwide retail volumes is projected for 2021. Continued uncertainty over Covid-19, high unemployment, and more uncertain incomes are the likely culprits here. That being said, food and essential retail are expected to outpace non-food retail. 

A larger trend in consumer goods and retail is increasing digitization. Online retailers have thrived during Covid-19 and they are expected to continue growing into next year. Increasing M&A will also likely exist. That being said, the continued expansion of digital commerce will result in more regulatory scrutiny and privacy concerns.

Like other industries, governments around the world are contemplating targeted initiatives to assist consumer goods and retail businesses. This may come in the form of lower taxes for restaurants or rent relief for brick-and-mortar businesses. While this sort of relief will certainly be welcome, a laggard travel market will result in lower revenues for luxury goods retailers. 

Energy

In all likelihood, there will be a partial rebound for the energy industry in 2021. The most promising segments include the solar and wind industries, which are projected to increase year-over-year by a combined 13%. While demand will recover in both oil and gas, their recoveries will be weaker than solar and wind. Specifically, changed behavioral patterns during Covid-19 are likely to stick, resulting in sustained lower oil demand until 2023.

Like other industries in this list, restructurings and bankruptcies will continue to affect the energy industry. This is especially true for shale operators carrying larger debts since the pressure will be intense. With U.S. oil production projected to fall next year, these shale operators may need to enter the bankruptcy process. The larger and better-capitalized oil and gas companies will still need to be agile (including job cuts as necessary).

Beyond restructuring and bankruptcy talk, we are accelerating toward a world of renewable energy. Governments are ready to support energy companies that are willing to invest in renewables and combat climate change. While the EU is expected to be the leader in this area, the US, China, and certain ASEAN states will likely contemplate more restrictive climate regulations. 

Finance

Financial firms around the world haven’t faced as much Covid-19-related damage as firms in other industries. Nonetheless, business will remain challenging in 2021 as nations around the world recover from the global pandemic. Curtailed consumer spending, ultra-low interest rates, and weaker economies as a whole will directly impact financial firms. Government support in the form of providing official lending and agreed-to currency swaps certainly helped, but there will likely be less government-related assistance next year. 

As discussed above, this rapid move to a digital-first world will also affect the financial sector. Consumers have gotten used to things like digital banking, contactless payments, and more. These digital consumer preferences have become engrained, meaning that financial firms must continuously think of new ways to provide value in a digital-first world. 

Finally, there is an elevated risk of bad loans around the world. Companies in hospitality, commercial real estate, brick-and-mortar retail, and more may find themselves on the brink of default. Lenders must be cognizant of these potential defaults as they think about mitigating their own risk.

Lenders face delinquencies as the pandemic continues to take a toll.

Healthcare

Healthcare has been top of mind as the world navigates Covid-19. Global healthcare spending will rise by about 6% in 2021. That being said, this 6% figure may be deceptive. Part of that 6% represents a bounceback from health care expenditures this year and another part represents spending dedicated solely to Covid-19. 

While Covid-19 remains the top priority, it is expected that governments around the world will devote significant resources to non-Covid-19 healthcare. Backlogs in diagnoses and treatments of non-Covid-19 ailments will take a larger role. Covid-19 has also been a catalyst for reshoring certain vital medical goods (specifically, personal protective equipment). 

On the consumer side of the healthcare industry, telehealth is becoming an increasingly accepted form of medical care. With new reimbursement rules for telehealth, healthcare providers will most likely offer even more telehealth options for their patients. Consumer apps focused on treating mental health are also expected to become more widespread next year. 

Telecoms

The telecommunications industry arguably had one of the least volatile experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic. Growth in the industry is expected next year—even as consumers have more uncertain incomes. Mobile subscriptions are expected to grow around 3.4% next year, which is a 5.4% increase compared to 2020. Asia and the Middle East will see the strongest recoveries year-over-year. 

Even with these growth numbers in mind, the telecom industry faces some headwinds next year. Most prominent are sustained tensions between the US and China. The much-anticipated rollouts of 5G technology could be in jeopardy, as prominent Chinese firms (like Huawei) are still navigating trade restrictions. Yet even with concerns about the actual rollout of 5G, companies around the world continue to prepare. Throughout next year, telecom operators will keep improving their 5G networks.

Beyond trade tensions and 5G, cloud and edge infrastructure will continue to grow. A large contributor to that growth is cloud gaming, which will accelerate throughout 2021. Last (but certainly not least), there is a higher possibility of regulations over data sharing. Telecom operators must prepare for the increasing chances of both the EU and the US creating more stringent rules on this contentious subject. 

Looking Ahead to 2021

As we know, it is hard to predict the future. But 2021 looks like there will be a mix of opportunities and threats to these six major industries. It will certainly be a time for recovery, restructuring, and reimagining new ways to operate in order to survive and thrive. We will all be watching closely and uncovering opportunities for you every step of the way!

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