As the 2014 World Economic Forum gathers this week in Davos, the focus of discussions has shifted significantly from last year. Then, the dialogue was almost exclusively around the developing consensus that the global financial crisis was finally ending. Financial assets were again safe for widows and orphans and financial market returns for 2013 proved the consensus correct.
Now, the focus has shifted to two new topics: growing income inequality as a risk to economic growth and social stability and the emergence of Africa as an economic force. Neither of these is a big surprise as neither is new. But the fact that these are the primary focus this year tells us that these topics will likely become more prominent in 2014.
The issue of income inequality will likely be prominent in U.S. Congressional mid-term elections in November. Republican Paul Ryan has already been criticizing the failure of Obama administration policies, saying the manner in which it tackled the 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the problem. Republicans and Democrats will both make the issue central as they seek to win over swing voters. Strap in! The debate on inequality will likely shape economic policy and the structural forces that will determine long-term economic growth and investment returns.
As for Africa, the cat is out of the bag that the opportunity there is huge. Sub-Saharan African nations are working together and making significant political and structural progress which will allow rapid economic growth in the coming decades. My meetings here with leaders from Rwanda and with a delegation from Nigeria on Monday in London remind me of experiences I had on my first trip to China in 1988. It is no longer prudent for investors to ignore Africa. It is becoming the greatest growth opportunity in the world. The good news is that if you invest now you are early!
Rising Capacity Utilization Suggests More U.S. Corporate CapEx Spending
Historically, a meaningful increase in capacity utilization is followed by acceleration in capital expenditure (CapEx). As the U.S. industrial capacity utilization rate in December increased to the highest level since June 2008, we should expect CapEx, measured by the U.S. private non-residential investments, to grow strongly in the next few quarters, adding further momentum to the U.S. economic expansion.
U.S. REAL PRIVATE NON-RESIDENTIAL INVESTMENTS YOY% VS. U.S. CAPACITY UTILIZATION RATE YOY%
Source: Haver, Guggenheim Investments. Data of 12/31/2013 for capacity utilization and as of 9/30/2013 for real private non-residential investment.