“What next?!!” is a cry that was heard from many exasperated executives during an increasingly turbulent 2022. Now, as 2023 unfolds, getting ready for whatever comes next involves understanding the risks, adopting a posture of readiness ─ and then reaping the rewards.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
I explored many of these issues at a recent Dun & Bradstreet Breakfast Briefing for business leaders, identifying a sequence of interconnected shocks that have created the major risk factors we will face in 2023:
COVID: back in 2020, both the fear of Covid-19 and the containment measures abruptly shut down demand and disrupted supply chains.
INFLATION: addressing the Covid challenge, Governments and central banks across the world provided massive fiscal and monetary policy support. By 2021, excess liquidity had inundated markets and inflationary pressures started to mount. Supply chains remained disrupted by bottlenecks and sporadic lockdowns.
WAR: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 exacerbated these pressures, triggering a massive spike in the prices of food, energy and base metals, driving inflation to multi-decade highs across many countries. Worldwide, central banks responded by tightening monetary policy. Inflation accelerated, curbing consumer demand and increasing input prices, ultimately eroding bottom lines for many businesses.
Bubbling up from this witches’ brew of background factors, the major risks facing business in 2023 include:
CONTINUING HIGH INFLATION: inflation was the forgotten enemy for many central banks. Now, we live in a world of tighter monetary policy because out-of-control inflation would be much more dangerous than an unnecessary recession. The Bank of England started increasing rates in December 2021 and hasn’t stopped. Although starting much later, the European Central Bank followed a similar trajectory. In the US, throughout 2022 the Federal Reserve implemented its most aggressive monetary tightening policy for over forty years. While these measures were certainly necessary and seem to be delivering initial results, central banks will have to stay vigilant to prevent inflation from running out of control again, which could spark even more interest rate rises, creating a significant slowdown in demand and hurting the topline growth of businesses.
POLITICAL RISK is rising too. The cost-of-living crisis has fuelled social unrest, mainly in energy dependent and low-income countries. The end of 2022 saw the UK engulfed in a wave of strikes reminiscent of 1979 and we are seeing increasing discontent across Europe, Latin America, and South Asia too. This all impacts the business environment – and none of it can be divorced from other risk factors reviewed in this blog.
FX VOLATILITY: A related but perhaps underestimated risk factor for 2023 is volatility in exchange rates. Uncertainty in markets can create huge fluctuations in exchange rates. As the Truss administration’s “mini-budget” in September 2022 demonstrated, even mature and stable economies like the UK can suffer from this unsettling truth. For any organisation exposed to international markets, being on the receiving end of a US Dollar appreciation might be particularly unwelcome: with more than 60% of central bank reserves around the world held in the USD, after strengthening spectacularly in 2022, the dollar is likely to remain strong also in 2023. For example, 60% of goods imported to the UK from non-EU countries are priced in dollars. That makes the dollar exchange rate a key risk factor which British firms trading internationally must take into account.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC DOWNTURN: Added together, risks like these mean that a global economic downturn is the predominant risk as we go into 2023. Many countries in the eurozone are heading for recession. In the UK, low growth is certain. The US is at the very least slowing down. And Covid continues to pose challenges in China. Summing up, these economies represent more than 60% of global GDP. If they all stutter at the same time, you have a recession almost automatically.
Data analytics can help companies more successfully navigate these uncertain times
Analysis of past shocks suggests that preparing well and acting fast are the keys to business resilience: the “bouncebackability” that sees some companies recovering more swiftly than others when more favourable conditions return.
Of course, data will not do that in itself. It needs competent managers making correct decisions at some point. But those managers are far more likely to make the right calls at the right time if their decisions are fully informed.
There is a substantial literature in economics and management showing a robust link between the productivity of businesses and process innovation, of which the implementation of data analytics is a form.
Maximising recession readiness in 2023 will also mean applying data analytics at company level, at department level, even at the level of individual teams.
Because common risk factors will affect different areas of your business in varying ways. By using commercially-savvy data analytics in a granular way, you can create and stress-test informed scenarios at every level so you are always ready to take timely actions including:
IMPLEMENTING best practices ─ whether old or new
WEATHERING the storm ─ without losing sight of long term issues
BUILDING visibility, agility and trust into your supply chain
IDENTIFYING the best opportunities for growth ─ and deciding how to pursue them
Done well, a data-driven recession readiness strategy should deliver both immediate and long term rewards.
In the short term, survival may be enough. In the longer term, preserving a strong market position and being prepared to seize growth opportunities when they come provides real grounds for hope, optimism and a positive view of the future.
And when recovery comes (as it generally does), the organisations with the best data analytics skills will be best placed to tackle the full range of enduring business priorities including optimising supply chains, minimising fraud, and targeting profitable new business relationships.
Tommaso Aquilante is Associate Director of Economic Research at Dun & Bradstreet, where he is responsible for macroeconomic research and business intelligence & analytics for a large set of European economies. He has previously worked at the European Central Bank, at Bruegel and at the University of Birmingham before becoming senior economist at the Bank of England, where he took on a leading Brexit role in the Monetary Analysis Directorate.
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