My colleagues at Forrester and I have been puzzling over the discrepancy between the wealth of attractive new mobile, cloud, and smart computing technologies in the market, and the relatively weak record of actual growth in tech spending that our tech market forecasting numbers show. Certainly, the recessions in Europe and weak economies in the US, Japan, China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets explain part of the weakness in tech buying. In addition, cloud computing’s impact on the timing of tech spending (reducing initial upfront capital purchases of owned hardware and software while increasing future subscription payments for use of these resources) means that spending that in the past would have occurred in current years has now been pushed into the future. Lastly, as a recent Economist article pointed out, business investment in general has been low compared to GDP and to cash distributed to shareholders this decade, as CEOs with stock option compensation have focused on meeting quarterly earnings-per-share targets instead of investing for the longer term (see Buttonwood, “The Profits Prophet,” The Economist, October 5, 2013). Still, even taking these factors into account, tech investment has been growing more slowly relative to economic activity than in past cycles of tech innovation and growth.
Two weeks after the Federal government shutdown and two days before the Federal government runs out of means to pay all its bills without additional Federal borrowing, the unthinkable development of a Federal debt default needs to be thought about. The responsibility for this situation lies squarely with the House Republicans, who have refused to bring to a vote a resolution to raise the debt ceiling without conditions. Moderate Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats have been working on a resolution that would raise the debt ceiling until January and re-open the Federal government at current, sequestration-reduced spending levels, in return for initiating negotiations between the White House, Democrats, and Republicans on longer-term deficit reduction plan and some minor adjustments to the Affordable Care Act. While this could well form the basis for a way out of this deadlock before midnight on Thursday, October 17, some House Republicans have already labeled it "a surrender" and vowed to oppose it. So, I think the risk of a Federal debt default is at 10% and rising.
No one would claim that the US tech market is booming. With Europe still mired in recession and debt problems, US economic growth looking soft, and business and consumer worries about the US government raising tax rates and cutting Federal spending, it is not surprising that businesses and governments are being cautious in their purchases of technology goods and services. But we think the fear is overblown. Forrester's forecast for the US tech market in 2013 and 2014 -- published today as "US Tech Market Outlook For 2013 And 2014: Better Times Ahead" -- projects a 6.2% rise in 2013 and a 6.8% growth in 2014 in US business and government purchases of computer equipment, communications equipment, software, IT consulting and systems integration services, and IT outsourcing. Adding in slow growing telecommunications services pulls growth down to 5.7% in 2013 and 6.1% in 2014. That may not be a boom, but it is certainly not a bust.
While CIOs are cautious in their tech buying -- and in the case of the Federal government, actually cutting back -- that caution has and will show up mostly in reduced spending on computer and communications equipment (with the exception of tablets). CIOs will be most aggressive in software, especially for SaaS apps, analytics, and mobile apps. IT outsourcing will see good growth in 2013 as the result of 2012 selection decisions, while IT consulting and systems integration will come on strong in 2014. Business and government purchases of telecommunications services will continue to grow at a slower rate than the overall tech market.
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.
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.
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.
At the end of December 2011, I wrote about the top ten tech market events of 2011. Last Friday, we published our global tech market forecasts for 2012 and 2013 (see January 6, 2012, “Global Tech Market Outlook For 2012 And 2013 — Eight Themes Will Shape Vendors' Prospects Over The Next Two Years”) . With that report now live, I would like to share the top ten things that I will be monitoring in 2012 because of their potential impacts on how the tech market will perform in 2012. Some of these things are macroeconomic developments that could hurt or help tech market demand. Others are supply-side or vendor-related events or trends that will define winners and losers in whatever tech demand does emerge. As with my top ten 2011 tech market events, these are counted down in reverse order of importance: