Well, it looks like the folks in Washington have done it. The device, called "sequestration," that imposes mandatory across-the-board cuts in Federal defense and non-defense spending is actually going into effect. That mechanism was created back in 2011 at the time of the US debt ceiling crisis as an outcome so terrible that it would force Republicans and Democrats to find a compromise that starts reducing the US Federal deficit. Instead, it has itself become the compromise between a Republican plan that would impose all of the planned $85 billion in budget cuts in the current fiscal year on non-defense spending, and an Obama proposal for $85 billion in tax increases, future cuts in entitlement spending, and selected defense and non-defense cuts. Republicans would rather see actual cuts in current US spending, even if that cuts spending on defense, their favorite category of Federal spending, rather than support any increase in taxes. And Democrats would rather see cuts in non-defense discretionary spending rather than in Social Security or Medicare, even if that means many of their favorite Federal programs will face cuts.
The 2013 New Year has begun with the removal from the global tech market outlook of one risk, that of the US economy going over the fiscal cliff. On New Year's day, the US House of Representatives followed the lead of the US Senate and passed a bill that extends existing tax rates for households with $450,000 or less in income, extends unemployment insurance benefits for 2 million Americans, and renews tax credits for child care, college tuition, and renewable energy production, as well as delaying for two months the automatic spending cuts. While it also allowed Social Security payroll taxes to rise by 2 percentage points — thereby raising the tax burden on poor and middle class people — and did not increase the federal debt ceiling or address entitlement spending, the last-minute compromise does mean that the US tech market no longer has to worry, for now, about big increases in taxes and cuts in spending pushing the US economy into recession.
The 2012 US election is now over, and the results were about what I expected based on the polls going in: Barack Obama reelected President (although with a wider margin of victory in the popular vote and electoral college than many had predicted); the Democrats retaining control of the Senate, with a slightly higher majority; and the Republicans holding their majority in the House. The blog I wrote in September on "What An Obama Reelection Would Mean For The US Tech Market Outlook" now becomes the one to focus on. With the balance of political power in Washington now settled for the next two years, those of us who track the tech market will now be awaiting answers to four key post-election questions:
Like many others in the New York region, I am writing this in a cold, mostly power-less house, without landline telephone or Internet connections. Thanks to the foresight and generosity of a neighbor with a generator, we have an extension cord that is powering the refrigerator and one light, plus charging of various iPhones, iPads, and PCs. With a gas range for cooking and intact house, we are basically engaged in high-class camping, with both the pleasures and discomforts that entails.
Right now, my only electronic connection to the outside world is through my iPhone, which did provide email through the storm, though cell voice service went missing for 36 hours after Sandy hit. I am writing this on my laptop, which doesn’t have Internet access, because I refuse to write an article like this on the keypad of an iPhone. (Yes, I know, I should have bought the iPad with 3G, but do I really need to spend $600 just for that?) Once I get this written, I will head to the nearby Starbucks and use their Wi-Fi to post this blog.
What this experience has reinforced for me are four lessons:
Haven't we seen this show before? Like last year? Once again, Europe wrestles with and is again losing against its debt crisis. Once again, after some promising growth in late 2011, the US economy is showing signs of losing steam. Once again, China and India are flashing distress signals. And once again, John Boehner and the Congressional Republicans are threatening to refuse to raise the US debt ceiling unless US Federal spending is cut sharply.
Last year, the mid-year economic troubles did take their toll on tech purchases in the third and four quarters of 2011, but a last-minute resolution to the US debt ceiling issue, the European Central Bank's aggressive lending to banks so they could buy Italian and Spanish government debt, and some strength in US consumer spending, Germany's surprisingly strong growth, and continued growth in China revived global economic growth in Q4 2011 and into Q1 2012. Much depends on whether this pattern of slump and revival will recur again in 2012. My bet is that we will in fact see the same pattern.
So, let's look at the economic evidence, and then the tech market evidence.
US economy slows but continues to grow. In the US, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis on May 31 revised down Q1 2o12 real GDP growth to 1.9% from 2.1% in the preliminary report, and on June 1 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a disappointing 69,000 increase in payroll employment in May, the second month of sub-100,000 job growth. On a more positive note, US retailers and auto makers reported good sales growth in May, while gas prices at the pump continued to fall from peaks earlier. My take is that we will see real GDP growth in the 1.5% to 2% range in the remainder of 2012, down from my earlier assumption of 2% to 2.5% growth.
While I am still relatively bullish on the 2012 tech market outlook for the US (see our April 2, 2012, "US Tech Market Outlook For 2012 To 2013" report), I have to say that the data we got on the US economy and on the US tech market was a bit softer than I expected. US real GDP growth came in at 2.2%, a bit lower than my expectation of 2.5%. On the positive side, consumer spending rose by 2.9% in real terms, and residential construction continued to improve. On the negative side, business investment in structures was weak, and government spending fell at both the federal and state and local levels. More to the point, business investment in computer equipment and communications equipment fell from Q4 2011 levels, though computer equipment investment still was almost 8% higher than levels a year ago. Software investment, though, was up strongly — by 8.2% at an annualized rate from Q4 2011 and by 8.4% from Q1 2011.
A week from tomorrow, I will be presenting a keynote on Smart Computing at Forrester's EA Forum in Las Vegas and later the same day a presentation on US IT spending with my colleague Chris Mines to Forrester's CIO Forum. The common theme in both presentations is that new technologies like Smart Computing, cloud computing, and mobility will drive companies to increase their tech spending and investment in 2012 and 2013.
The Smart Computing keynote presentation will draw on research from my report on "Smart Computing Connects CIOs With The Business," in which I discuss the ways in which sensors, RFID, M2M, advanced analytics, mobile devices, and collaboration platforms and applications are allowing CIOs to address previously unaddressed business problems, using various combinations of these technologies that will vary by industry. I will focus on specific industry examples in trucking, healthcare, and health insurance.
The US Tech Market Outlook presentation will include Smart Computing along with cloud computing, mobility, and IT consumerization as technologies that will cause US tech budgets to rise by over 7% in both 2012 and 2013 — well above the 4% to 5% growth in nominal GDP that we expect. Most of the numbers we will share will be those from our most recent US tech market report: "US Tech Market Outlook For 2012 To 2013 -- Improving Economic Prospects Create Upside Potential." However, Chris and I will also provide the very latest tech market data from government and vendor reports.
The US economy continues to show improvement – for example, today’s news that new jobless claims were near a four-year low. As the economy outlook has improved, so, too, have prospects for the US tech market. In our updated Forrester forecast for US tech purchases, "US Tech Market Outlook For 2012 To 2013: Improving Economic Prospects Create Upside Potential," we now project growth of 7.5% in 2012 and 8.3% in 2013 for business and government purchases of information technology goods and services (without telecom services). Including telecom services, business and government spending on information and communications technology (ICT) will increase by 7.1% in 2012 and 7.4% in 2013.
The lead tech growth category will shift from computer equipment in 2011 to software in 2012 and 2013, with and IT consulting and systems integration services playing a strong supporting role. Following strong growth of 9.6% in 2011, computer equipment purchases will slow to 4.5% in 2012, as the lingering effects of Thailand's 2011 floods hurt parts supply in the first half and the prospect of Windows 8 dampens Wintel PC sales until the fall. Apple Macs and iPad tablets will post strong growth in the corporate market, though, and server and storage should grow in the mid-single digits.
On March 20, 2012, Oracle released its financial results for the quarter ending February 28, 2012, and Accenture did the same on March 22, 2012. Both had generally positive results, but with different implications for the software, hardware, and services markets of which they are a part. In short, we think the software and computer equipment market will do better in Q1 2012 than Oracle’s results suggest, while the IT services market will not do as well as Accenture did.