The year 2022 was one of the surprises: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, persistent inflation fueled by energy costs, the collapse of FTX and crypto markets, the revelations of the so-called Twitter Files, and one of the worst equity markets in recent history, to name but a few.
The year 2023 is poised to present some equally challenging circumstances. Here are 12 trends, events, or surprises that may come to shape and define the year ahead.
1) Inflation Returns
I may be the minority report here, but I do not believe we’ve seen the end of—or worst of—inflation in the United States. I argue that following a lag in which price growth appears to moderate, Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation returns to the 8–12 percent range, where it persists for the rest of the year. This will be cost-push inflation, not demand-pull (see the second point below), and a lagging result of trebling the money supply in the United States since 2009. Stagflation returns, with the Misery Index (inflation plus unemployment) hitting new highs.
2) The U.S. Economy Enters Recession
This is a less controversial proposition at this stage, as most economists and analysts agree that a recession looks highly probable for 2023. The first half of 2023 is likely to be characterized by negative GDP, rising unemployment, and an insecure consumer. The wave of layoffs which began in the tech sector in 2022 spreads to other industries and sectors and migrates down from large-cap corporations like Meta and Amazon to small- and medium-sized enterprises which are disproportionately affected by the slowdown.
3) European Energy Crisis Worsens
While in the near term, Western Europe may be spared the worst possible outcomes due to a mild winter, the underlying factors which led to the energy crisis haven’t been resolved. Germany, the European Union’s largest economy, made a Faustian bargain believing that it could abandon its coal industry and any nuclear aspiration and instead place its trust in the Russians—against all historical experience—and a green utopia. France similarly backed away from its path to energy independence—nuclear power—and is paying the price. While both have recently repented from these misjudgments, the path to recovery will take years, not months. In the meantime, supply shortages will continue to plague these economies.
4) Oil, Crypto, and Gold Perform
Energy markets will continue their bull run for the foreseeable future as a result of continued supply disruptions and refinery constraints. Bitcoin and Ethereum emerge from a long, dark crypto winter, but altcoins remain frozen out. The dollar begins a long, if slow and turbulent, slide from 2022 highs, as peak demand from rapidly rising interest rates eases.
5) Continued Rise of Resource Nationalism
The unforgettable geopolitical lesson of the pandemic era has been that just-in-time supply-chain dependence on countries that may or may not have another nation’s interest at heart represent a dangerous strategic folly. It’s well and good that we learned this lesson when we did. Countries around the world are now aggressively working to realign their supply chains and ensure that they have strategic resources in adequate supply to meet unexpected, Black Swan events. Look for increasingly protectionist and nationalistic policies to dominate trade discussions.
6) Traditional Global Alliances Break, New Ones Form
Long-standing partnerships, such as the United States’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, have already begun to unravel. Expect further strengthening of the China and Russia-led alliance involving former U.S. allies, or at least non-aligned nations such as India, Turkey, South Africa, and Brazil. Most vulnerable to geopolitical shifts are countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. Because of sanctions warfare and incoherent or at least inconsistent foreign policy, the United States ends up in a net deficit position, losing more friends than it gains in this process.
7) U.S. Dollar Dominance Continues to Erode
Hard money returns to favor, with commodity-backed currencies taking the spotlight. Alt payment systems, petrodollars being replaced with petrorubles or petroyuans, as well as central bank-issued digital currencies, will all conspire to slowly erode the U.S. dollar’s share of global financial and trade flows.
8) The West, Weary of the Cost of the Ukraine War, Sues for Peace
While it may not be realistic to think that Russia can bomb the Ukrainian people into submission, the increasing costs of supporting Ukraine’s war with Russia will challenge political leaders across the West. This fatigue will increase as more citizens start to ask reasonable questions about whether hundreds of billions of dollars or euros might not be better spent to take on some of the domestic economic and social challenges that these nations face at home. Eventually, Western governments and Putin each decide that half a loaf is better than no loaf at all.
9) Domino Effect of Exposure
The recent uncovering of high-level fraud and corruption involving U.S. government agencies and personnel continues. Increasing transparency leads to accountability. Eventually, the evidence becomes too overwhelming to ignore; arrests, trials, and convictions ensue. Congressional hearings led to a wave of resignations and the first steps toward fundamental institutional reform.
10) China Barks, but Doesn’t Bite, at Taiwan
While we should expect the growling and barking to grow louder, with more frequent air space incursions, naval activity, intimidations, and outright threats, it is highly unlikely that China invades Taiwan in 2023. While China most certainly would prefer to confront Taiwan while the Biden administration remains in power, rather than face an improbable return of Donald Trump to the presidency, Xi Jinping’s government will conclude that they are not ready, militarily, politically, or otherwise, to invade Taiwan. Domestic issues, including a worsening economy and rising social unrest within mainland China, will mean that creating a row with the United States and other trading partners in the West remains untenable for the time being. While Russia might be able to make do without selling gas to Germany, there is no way the Chinese economy can survive if abruptly cuts itself off from the United States and Western Europe.
11) Second-Half Rebound in Economy and Markets
While I am not optimistic about the first half, I take great comfort in the breadth and resilience of the American economy. There is enormous unleashed latent potential in oil and gas, in manufacturing onshoring, in supply-chain realignment, and in new technologies such as AI, quantum computing, blockchain, and cold fusion.
12) More of the Same
What could derail a more V-shaped recovery are the same forces that helped bring the recession about poor policy decisions that continue to damage our energy industry, keep our borders insecure, and fail to dismantle the out-of-control regulatory bureaucracy that is impeding innovation in energy, manufacturing, financial services, and technology. These are some of the largest sectors in the economy and those which have been most negatively affected by the Biden administration’s imprudent return to Obama-era economic policies.