I have started to give some thoughts about how to invest in this post coronavirus economic lockdown world, and thinking about how I should adjust my investing thinking in this changed economy. I do think in the next several months to years there will be structural changes in the economy, causing me to rethink my investing priorities. The following is just a sample of my current ideas.
Job automation will be jumpstarted. With demand falling, I think there will be much more emphasis on streamlining operations. Over the last few years we have been inventing technology that has had mild acceptance in corporate america, but now that companies are less fat and happy, they will be up for trying new things.
A couple examples are video conferencing and moving operations to the cloud. Due to the closing of workplaces, video meetings have become a daily requirement for white collar America. As workers become more accustom to this mode of communication, it will lead to improving efficiencies. In addition, having workers work from home will cause employers to rethink management practices as employees are suddenly autonomous. Related to this is moving operations to the cloud – i.e. Microsoft Azure or Amazon AWS. While disruptive at first, this can lead to smoother operations and allow companies to focus more resources on the business and less on infrastructure issues.
Jumpstart to augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR). I know this sounds odd, but for years AR/VR has struggled with mainstream acceptance. This is a technology that is an example where companies have not really figured out how to integrate a technology into their operations. At the same time, the technology is getting better, cheaper and could be more than a niche product. Now that video conferencing and work from home have taken hold, to me a logical extension of this would be VR meetings to better simulate the workplace. These could help the building of corporate teamwork lost when employees are not in one physical place achieving a common goal. Not a big investing theme here for me, but I am starting to think about what technology companies might benefit from the next step up from video conferencing.
Strong Balance Sheets. I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks looking through the balance sheets of the companies in my portfolio. We are in a time where nobody can forecast earnings for the next few months, so looking at the balance sheet and thinking of best case/worst case scenarios helps me assess the near term performance of companies. Those fortunate companies with low debt and lots of cash will be in a good position to ride out any worst case scenarios, and also have the flexibility to pick up low priced assets of failing companies.
Good Management. Good management will be more important than ever for the next few years. My measure of good management will be how well does management adapt to the changing workplace, changing customer demand, and changing supply channels. I think there will be huge opportunities for smart companies to find products in this new environment, and also keep their workforce happy and motivated with new management techniques. Good management may also want to rethink ‘just in time’ inventory approaches, and redesign backup plans for sourcing of materials.
Real Estate Losers. I am very bearish on commerical real estate over the next few years. The triple whammy of a glut of restuarants that will not reopen, an oversupply of hotels for business travel/conventions, and less office space requirements can’t be good. I think smart management will be able to reduce the amount of office space needed per employee. The business convention business has been overlooked as a big loser in this new world. One example is Microsoft cancelled all its in-person events through July of 2021. I have to believe most big business conventions will be cancelled for at least 2020. That’s a lot of empty expensive hotel rooms in the downtowns of many cities.
The Rise of Sports Betting. Another big loser in this event is the hit to municipal economies. With all the revenue shortfall states will incur, I have to believe ramping up revenue from gambling will be an early target. Sports betting was already gaining traction in over a dozen states – I predict wagering on profession sports will be legal in all 50 states by the end of 2021. The winners here will be casino operators.. unfortunately most casino operators have big hotel holdings that will get hurt on the flipside, so choose your investment wisely in this area.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with any of the above points, I think its worth it for every investor to envision what the world will look like when we come out of this. Then look at your portfolio, and make sure it is positioned with companies that will thrive in this new environment. Whatever happens in the next few months, I think the stock market will identify big winners and big losers.