A.T. Kearney 2019 Predictions: Trade Wars, Rising Prices and Super Strong Technology

Since 2017, A.T. Kearney has compiled a business and technology forecast for the upcoming year, identifying 10 trends ranging from geopolitics to projected consumer demand and beyond.

Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting predictions for 2019 and recap how some 2018 predictions panned out.

U.S.-China Trade War Will Intensify

Between July and September 2018, the U.S. and China imposed $250 billion and $110 billion, respectively in tariffs upon one another, with the U.S. planning to increase the import tax from 10% to 25% before the end of the year. That planned increase was delayed by 90 days after an agreement was reached between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, giving the world’s first and second largest economies some time to try to sort out their differences. Kearney analysts, however, don’t expect sufficient progress to be made during this time — instead predicting continued escalation of the U.S.-China trade war after the U.S. cites a lack of movement on changes to the Chinese economy. Such an escalation will continue to drive U.S.-based companies to shift supply chains to other Asian economies, Kearney predicts. And the IMF estimates the conflict will reduce global economic output by as much as 0.4% over several years.

New Sulphur Regulations Will Raise Global Shipping Costs and Prices

Kearney predicts prices will rise across the board as fuel prices become more volatile, driven by new regulation on sulfur emissions for the shipping industry set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. Less than 3% of ships requiring a sulfur scrubber to be compliant with upcoming regulations have been retrofitted, and fuels of all types (including bunker fuel used in shipping, jet fuel and diesel fuel) are expected to see substantial price swings as refiners and fuel purchasers jockey for price advantages. Kearney also notes crude oil tankers could see a 25% increase in shipping costs, leading to higher fuel prices across the board and in turn, higher prices for businesses and consumers in 2019 and 2020 until sulfur-reducing provisions are more completely implemented.

Exoskeletons at Last

Exoskeletons for use in medical, industrial and military applications have been in development since the 1960s, but 2019 will be the year these advanced machines break into the mainstream and truly begin to make an impact. Kearney reports that Ford recently deployed exoskeletons on 15 production lines, a pilot program to measure enhancements to productivity and workplace safety. Seismic, an intelligent clothing start-up, has developed robotic undergarments designed to stimulate muscles and joints during medical and outpatient care — a precursor to wider adoption of some exoskeleton prototypes that have shown promise in allowing victims of paralysis to regain greater independent mobility. The Chinese, Russian and U.S. militaries are also pursuing their own exoskeleton projects to assist in moving heavy ordnance and other high strain activities. In 2019, exoskeletons could speed the transition toward automation in manufacturing and healthcare, allowing one or a few personnel to perform the jobs of a dozen or more workers, given the expected reduction in fatigue and enhancements to overall strength.

Some other 2019 Kearney predictions:

  • Bitcoin will lead consolidation of the cryptocurrency market.
  • Rising levels of trash will spur innovations in waste management.
  • China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will continue expanding their relationship.
  • New products will be released to address the global anxiety epidemic.
  • A shortage of high-grade sand will create headwinds for the global construction industry.
  • Emerging markets will continue to struggle with a credit crunch.
  • Africa’s technology and trade integration will continue at a rapid pace.

2018 Predictions: Did They Hold Up?

Kearney predicted quantum supremacy — that is, a quantum computer that can accomplish tasks a traditional computer cannot — would be achieved in testing in 2018. While no company crossed the finish line in time, both IBM and Google are working on iterations of their designs that will cross the 50 qubits threshold, often considered the tipping point for the “quantum supremacy” milestone. Don Galeom of Futurism explains that quantum computing uses the mysterious properties of quantum physics to allow information to be stored and passed over distances instantaneously, vastly increasing processing power and making large scale analysis of IoT data and machine learning far more feasible than under the restraints of existing number-crunching capabilities.

While not yet omnipresent, as predicted by Kearney for 2018, facial recognition adoption grew by leaps and bounds last year, especially in China where payment systems, classrooms and law enforcement have all integrated the ability to rapidly identify a subject on camera. Bernard Marr of Forbes explores the wide variety of implementations being tested by Chinese governments and businesses alike, from payments at fast-food chains to cross referencing potential criminal suspects against the national database. Closer to home, Kearney reports that trials of facial recognition technology are underway at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport and in New York City’s MTA commuter system.

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