Hear Ye! Since 1998.
Jan 23

Weekly Report: January 1, 2023


Happy 2023! For the last couple of years, I’ve written a Year In Review post that is sent to friends and family. It contains a “What we remember personally” section, which is about personal events, and a “What we remember in the world” section. Below is the latter section from those writings.

The Economy. For the first time in about 13 years, the economy and the markets are deteriorating. For years I’ve believed that inflation was the main thing that was going to catalyze another recession, but I didn’t have a clue what might spark that inflation. At the start of this year, a confluence of factors such as the Ukraine invasion and supply chain shocks, have led to the highest inflation rates in 40 years, which in turn have led to the fastest series of interest rate rises in history.

When interest rates rise, equities become less attractive relative to other assets, and valuations fall. Accordingly, most of the market took a dump, with growth stocks (mostly tech companies) getting hit the worst.

Tech companies, suddenly confronted with an inability to continue raising funds at the same inflated valuations they previously received (or to raise funds at all), were now staring at their runway trying to figure out if they had enough cash to weather the storm. Some laid off employees by the thousands, and the focus moved from growing the top line at all costs, to getting to profitability at the least cost.

However, the market is not the economy, and we have this interesting situation where things feel bad and lots of techies are losing their jobs, but the economy actually isn’t in bad shape just yet. In the U.S. and Australia, for example, unemployment is currently still under 4%, which is pretty much the lowest it’s been for the last 20+ years. A lot of companies are simply reacting before the storm hits. This time, companies are trying to get ahead of it.

I think the real pain of a recession is yet to come. Obviously I could be wrong, but don’t see a soft landing on the cards when the Fed is spamming the interest rate increase button. Sudden changes don’t seem conducive to letting businesses adapt over time to changing conditions, and it presumes that the Fed won’t be late to react again, this time to cooling inflation.

It’s also going to be interesting to see what happens socially and to workplace culture if we do have some sort of economic crisis. The experiences you go through shape your perception of the world, and most people under 33 have not experienced a downturn in their working lives. It’s been halcyon days for a long time. Not knowing any other world, younger workers perhaps have come to take for granted job mobility, a seller’s market for employment, and that dips in the market are simply short-lived buying opportunities.

I have been through two economic downturns — graduating at the nadir of the dot com crash in the 2002, and again during the GFC in 2009. In 2009, the job market had completely dried up and I was proofreading documents for $13/hour and trawling for contract jobs on Craigslist (I actually found a couple) to make ends meet and try to maintain my U.S. visa status. I was down to about $600 in my bank account at one stage, sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with 3 other people. I always had a backup plan — returning to Australia and a job that I had taken a 3-year leave of absence from — but through that experience, I know how tough things can get in bad times and sometimes you just have to leave your ego at the door.

Housing affordability is another problem, and one problem has been swapped for another: record low interest rates pushed housing prices through the roof, making deposits difficult to afford for younger millennials and Gen Z. Now higher interest rates are pushing interest payments through the roof, while housing prices are still very elevated.

One thing this indicates is that there is no end in sight for the growing economic inequality between younger and older generations. I don’t know what this means exactly, but the trend is unsustainable and will eventually end in trouble if not reversed.

Roe v. Wade was overturned by Dobbs. In June, a precedent that stood for almost 50 years was overturned by the Supreme Court. The ruling split 6–3 along ideological lines (some would say party lines). It is impossible to overstate how deeply the court’s composition has and could impact the fabric of American society over the next generation. Let’s just say that for now we are relieved we live in California, but it’s a reminder of how quickly things can shift. Also, Ketanji Brown Jackson was appointed to the Supreme Court.

AI. One of the most notable technological developments in a while is the raft of consumer-accessible AI software that gained prominence this year: ChatGPT, DALL•E 2, Stable Diffusion, Midjourney, Jasper, Lensa, Notion AI, etc. Unlike web3 or the Metaverse, which are solutions in search of a problem, the utility and impact of these forms of AI are immediately understandable. I think these technologies will make the biggest impact on society since the shift from desktop to mobile a decade ago. The tech is already pretty eye-opening, and OpenAI is still to release GPT-4, which is rumored to be a couple orders of magnitude more powerful.

Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022. She was such a fixture in the world that it still feels weird that she’s gone and we have a King Charles III. Oh, and Liz Truss’ short reign as PM is kind of a footnote to this event. My wife points out that, remarkably, her Queen Margrethe is now the world’s only current female monarch. Margrethe II celebrated her golden jubilee (50 years on the throne) this year.

Scomo was voted out. In May, Australia held an election and voted Scott Morrison out. Not sad to see the departure of Scotty from Marketing who left his mark in Engadine.

Xi Jinping was elected to a new 5 year term. Xi Jinping was elected to an unprecedented third 5-year term, solidifying his autocratic grasp on power. However, cracks are starting to take their toll on China. One of the sad casualties through all this has been Hong Kong, which now seems like a shell of its former vibrant self.

November mid-term elections. I called this one wrong last year. I thought it would be a landslide, but it wasn’t and the Democrats even expanded their control of the Senate. The results gave us some hope here that Trumpism is on the wane. It was also the first U.S. federal election that I voted in.

The Metaverse. Lots of coverage about this, but I don’t see anyone of any generation scrambling to get on board the metaverse train. If there is a metaverse that takes traction, it ain’t going to be Meta’s — my prediction is that it will come from a gaming company. (Scott Galloway on the ~$1B a month Meta is spending: “Instead, spend the money on employee retention, and every workday at HQ raffle off an Airbus A380 (resale value: $50 million) to a lucky employee.” A380s are more expensive than that, but the underlying point is still valid.)

Elon Musk & Twitter. A morbidly entertaining saga. It will be interesting to see what comes of Twitter in 2023. Things are so random it’s tough to make a prediction here, but I don’t think Twitter is getting back to its $44B valuation in the next 5 years (if ever).

FTX blew up. I’ve written about this at length, but it’s been another morbidly entertaining story. I can’t wait to read Michael Lewis’ book and watch the movie.

Crypto winter. This year, the get rich quick scheme that perhaps many recent participants in the market hoped to capitalize on turned into a get poor quick scheme. I believe crypto is correlated with the larger market, and it will largely move in line with what happens to the economy next year (just more violently). And hopefully the sector picks up some regulation to protect more consumers from losing their shirts to bad actors.

Uvalde School Shooting. In America’s third deadliest school shooting, 19 students and 2 teachers died while police controversially waited for over an hour to engage the shooter, instead confronting parents who were trying to get in and save their kids.

Shinzo Abe was assassinated. Assassinations are always jarring news.

J-Lo and Ben Affleck got married. Not much to say here, but this was one of the main things Susie said she remembered from the year! Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars, and Johnny Depp winning his defamation case against Amber Heard, rounds up other memorable celebrity events.


Charts, Images & Videos

The Cosmic Cliffs, a region on the edge of the gigantic, gaseous Carina Nebula, as seen by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera. Source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
A close-up of the star Earendel (red arrow). At a co-moving distance of 28 billion light years, it’s the most distant individual star ever seen. Source: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

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