Emptying cities and a ‘blockchain for news’ among Saxo Bank’s ‘outrageous predictions’ for 2021

Investment bank reveals its annual list of 10 events that are unlikely to happen, but would send shock waves across markets if they did

An Amazon.com Inc. delivery driver carries a customer order from the back of a delivery van in Westcliff-on-Sea, U.K., on Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. With Black Friday almost underway, equity traders are bracing for a holiday season where brick-and-mortar businesses that lack strong digital platforms could suffer. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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In a year dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic, social stability and science shaped Saxo Bank's annual "outrageous predictions" report for 2021, the Danish investment bank said on Tuesday.

The bank's list of 10 events unlikely to happen in 2021 – that would send shockwaves through financial markets if they came to pass – include Amazon re-domiciling its European Union headquarters to Cyprus, Germany bailing out France to prevent a systemic collapse and the start of a universal basic income that would decimate big cities.

“We have moved the micro paradigm from one of financial stability to social stability, which means more spending, making sure people have an appropriate level of income and are not missing out on the gains made by society,” Steen Jakobsen, chief investment officer at Saxo Bank, said.

“Another theme that informed our predictions for 2021 is how science stepped up in 2020. This proves that if there is a concerted effort by governments and scientists, we can reach the outer boundaries of where we imagine ourselves.”

Meanwhile, John Hardy, head of FX strategy at Saxo Bank, said one of the underlying themes of the 2021 predictions is a K-shaped recovery. “We need to move towards a more equitable set-up. With inflation, there will be a reduction in the real load of debt, which includes deflating the value of the assets of the wealthy.”

Here are the Danish investment bank’s 10 outrageous forecasts for 2021:

Amazon 'buys' Cyprus

Trend: Platforms like Facebook, Amazon and Google operate on models that are very close to monopolies. "We will finally see regulators disciplining these info tech giants in 2021," Mr Jakobsen said.

Outrageous prediction: Amazon will re-domicile its EU headquarters from Luxembourg to Cyprus in 2021 for tax leniency. The tax revenue will help the country reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 100 per cent, according to Saxo Bank.

Amazon will also help Cyprus rewrite its tax code to mimic that of Ireland, but with lower levels of corporate and other taxes. However, EU regulators are likely to move against Amazon, forcing it to change its practices and asking Cyprus and other EU countries to harmonise tax rules.

We have moved the micro paradigm from one of financial stability to social stability

Germany bails out France

Trend: The eurozone will commit to its mutually financed future or risk spinning apart to a free trade zone. "The EU framework will be subject to an existential test. One of the big countries could prove to be a source of trouble rather than a Greece or Spain," Mr Hardy said.

Outrageous prediction: France is one of the European countries facing the highest debt levels. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, public debt was around 100 per cent of gross domestic product and private debt hit nearly 140 per cent of GDP. The pandemic response has accelerated this. France might have to approach Germany for help to prevent a systemic collapse.

Blockchain kills fake news

Trend: There will be a way to protect democracies from fake news and propaganda.

Outrageous prediction: Major media companies and social platforms will come together to create a shared blockchain network for news content, which will help validate the content and the source of stories. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook are likely to invest heavily in this blockchain tech.

“The fact that we can create a narrative today without addressing truth is concerning. The industry can use blockchain to verify and present balanced stories,” Mr Jakobsen said.

China’s new digital currency leads to big capital flows

Trend: The move to digital currencies is coming and allows an unprecedented level of control of capital flows – from control of policy rates to encouraging and discouraging capital flows.

Outrageous prediction: The People's Bank of China will grant foreigners full access to Chinese capital markets because the digital version of the yuan will offer full transparency on fund flows. The stability of the yuan and the traceability and oversight that blockchain enables would eliminate the risk of capital flight or illegal transfers out of China.

"China will fully open its capital account and allow money to flow freely to and from the country. This idea will also increase the yuan's use externally as an alternative to the US dollar in transactions," said Mr Jakobsen.

Fusion design creates energy abundance

Trend: Throughout history, every major technological advance has been accompanied by a new fuel type. Alternative energy, such as solar and wind power, is not the answer for the long run.

Outrageous prediction: "Alternative energy is not the long-term solution to what ails our economy," said Mr Hardy. In 2021, an advanced AI algorithm will clear the way for commercial fusion energy. Massive investment from public and private sectors will help implement fusion design in a few years.

Fusion energy will remove the constraints of water and food scarcity, thanks to desalination and vertical farming. This form of energy also allows nearly every country to become food- and energy-independent.

Universal basic income decimates big cities

Trend: An introduction of universal basic income and everything being available online means concentration in crowded urban environments will reduce. This will lead to lower rents for commercial real estate.

Outrageous prediction: The year 2021 will see the start of a permanent new UBI. This will drive changes in attitudes towards work-life balance, allowing many young people to stay in the communities where they grew up. Professionals and marginal workers will begin to leave big cities as job opportunities dry up.

“There are predictions that up to 2 billion jobs could be made redundant, especially on the automation side, [in] factories and transport sectors. More parts of the population will need to be supported as a result. There will be a focus on UBI to boost people’s incomes,” Mr Hardy said.

There are predictions that up to 2 billion jobs could be made redundant. There will be a focus on UBI to boost people's incomes

Disruption dividend creates Citizens Technology Fund

Trend: Overhaul in policy to reduce income and social inequalities

Outrageous prediction: A Citizens Technology Fund will be created in 2021 that transfers a portion of ownership of capital assets to everyone, with an extra portion going to displaced workers, allowing them to participate in the productivity gains of the digital era. The policy will be called "Disruption Dividend".

“There will be a transfer of assets into a citizens’ technology fund to let people who were made redundant re-educate themselves. This fund is kind of a tax on companies that displaced the world,” Mr Jakobsen said.

A successful Covid-19 vaccine kills companies

Trend: Zombie companies ruin productivity growth and must be allowed to fail once economic recovery begins.

Outrageous prediction: The US Fed could make a policy mistake by allowing financial conditions to tighten too rapidly. Corporate defaults will rise to their highest in years, with the most over-leveraged companies in the physical retail space being the first to go.

The policy of near-infinite liquidity provision and easing financial conditions has pushed global sovereign and investment-grade corporate yields to historical lows and forced investors to take positions in riskier assets.

“The world will rebound in 2021 with high inflation. But there is a high risk of a further reduction in demand for the foreseeable future,” Mr Jakobsen added.

Sun shines on silver

Trend: The investment world is reminded that not everything can go virtual. The limitations of the physical world is absolute in some cases.

Outrageous prediction: 2021 will power silver higher as the US dollar weakens and investors are faced with negative real interest rates. This is exacerbated by higher inflation. The rapidly rising demand for silver in industrial applications will also contribute to its price increase in 2021. "However, a silver supply crunch is on the cards next year," said Mr Hardy.

Next-generation tech will drive frontier and emerging markets

Trend: Developed market productivity is declining but emerging and frontier markets have a long way to go.

Outrageous prediction: Frontier and emerging markets will take advantage of new technologies to raise private sector productivity.

The FinTech revolution has already given billions access to the digital economy via their mobile devices. Satellite-based internet delivery systems will emerge in 2021, which will reduce the price of internet provisioning and increase download speeds. “Reliable, high-speed and cheap internet access will drive a boost in productivity around the world,” Mr Hardy added.