Happy New Year! Each year I pick a few brands to watch. These are brands that I think are heading into a particularly interesting year. Some have opportunities to break out, and some are likely to struggle. Here is my 2023 list.
In a somewhat risky move, I’ll also include my stock market forecast at the end of this post.
Of course! After the past couple weeks, how could Southwest not make the list.
Southwest has long been a unique and charming airline. The other players are big, corporate and impersonal. Southwest is different. The boarding process, flight schedule and check-in process are unique. Flight attendants sing songs and tell jokes. How often has your United flight attendant belted out a Frank Sinatra tune?
But everything collapsed over the holidays. Thousands and thousands of flights were cancelled, Christmas and vacations plans were shattered, luggage piled up. The pilots blamed management, the gate agents blamed the operations team and the CEO blamed the weather.
Can Southwest recover? My projection: I think the CEO won’t last, but the airline will come back.
People have short memories, and Southwest has decades of success to fall back on. This is the power of a strong brand.
Today I would be nervous booking a Southwest flight. I suspect I’ll feel differently in June and most other people will, too.
A decade from now, we will look back at Facebook/Meta and marvel at Mark Zuckerberg’s big bet on the metaverse.
It is a huge bet. The company is investing billions in the metaverse. Zuckerberg renamed the company. Who renames a company based on a completely unproven technology? Zuckerberg even started calling employees metamates.
As Meta invests in the metaverse, Tik Tok is taking over the social media world.
I suspect we won’t see the metaverse take off in 2023 and by the end of the year Zuckerberg will have stepped back and Facebook/Meta will have shifted its focus back to the core business and defending against Tik Tok.
Can crypto survive after a devastating 2022?
The obvious answer is no. Crypto and Bitcoin rely on trust, and after the FTX collapse trust seems hard to find.
But I think Bitcoin, in particular will bounce back. It is the largest, most established cryptocurrency. Many investors won’t go near it, but these investors were never going to buy Bitcoin anyway. More aggressive investors will see an opportunity, and any faint signs of hope will propel it forward.
What happens when all your marketing people leave? Tyson is running an experiment.
Last year, the company announced that it was “bringing the team together” and moving employees to Arkansas. Tyson shut the Chicago office. The result, predictably, was that almost everyone left.
So now Tyson doesn’t have a lot of marketing talent and I suspect that recruiting marketing employees in Arkansas can’t be that easy.
Will Tyson deliver a strong year? Perhaps, because the core of the business is commodity chicken production, and you don’t need great marketing talent for that. But the most profitable business, the consumer business, is driven by new product development, brand management and other skills.
I suspect Tyson will struggle to keep the consumer business performing well. The company won’t reopen the Chicago offices, but investors will question the logic behind that move and the capabilities of the senior management team.
There are a lot of politicians to watch this year, as candidates position themselves for 2024 and 2028 presidential elections. Ron DeSantis is of course a notable brand.
For the democrats, I think Pete Buttitieg is a brand to watch in 2023. He is serving now as Sectary of Transportation. He is well-spoken, moderate and young. He is willing to work with Republicans. He is reasonable and forceful, humble and funny. He is good on social media.
Some will say that a gay politician just can’t win on a national stage. I disagree. Yes, some regions might have issues, but these aren’t areas that tend to support democrats anyway. The battle ground states are quite different.
His current role gives him exposure while avoiding controversy; pretty much everyone agrees that airports and roads and trains are important. This will help his brand. Pete isn’t going to challenge Biden, but he might emerge as a logical successor.
The cruise industry fundamentals are exceptionally appealing. The high fixed costs provide a barrier to entry, limiting competition. Expenses are surprisingly low. People love the experience.
Still, can a company like Carnival bounce back? COVID was devastating, and Carnival loaded up on debt to survive. It now has over $33 billion in long-term debt. The stock price is down 88% over the past five years.
Will Carnival rebound? I think so. People value vacations perhaps more than ever, and cruises are a terrific value. Look for Carnival to stabilize and then begin rebuilding its brands in 2023.
Projecting the stock market is a hopeless task. When it looks poised for a gain, it falls and when things look hopeless, a rebound is often just ahead.
Nonetheless, I’ll give it a shot. My projection: we will see a small rebound in 2023. The shock of higher interest rates is past and inflation is moderating. Stocks generally go up. Inflation can be a positive for company profits. The S&P 500 closed the year at 3,839. My projection is about a 4% gain, less than the historical average but still positive. Let’s call it 3,990.
Best wishes for a productive and fulfilling 2023.