The world in 2040: five potential market movers

Matthew Lynn takes an imaginary look back from 2040 at five of the biggest events to hit markets

1. IBM buys Google and Facebook

In the 2020s, Google and Facebook were two of the most successful companies in the world with a combined market value of $1.8trn. IBM was a dull old conglomerate that blew its lead in computing a lifetime ago and was worth only $100bn. And yet there is a reason why the story of the tortoise and the hare is such an enduring fable. Competitors began chipping away at Google’s dominance; Facebook lost traction with younger customers. IBM had already piloted its way through 100 years of technology, from tabulating machines, to mainframes, to software services, and somehow managed to keep reinventing itself. In the 2030s it decided that a much shrunken Google and Facebook still had some useful software and snapped both of them up at a knock-down price. 

2. Britain rejoins the EU; France leaves

The election of Marion Maréchal Le Pen in the 2027 presidential election in France changed everything. After France left the EU in 2030, as the only way to restore the franc, the EU changed dramatically. With Spain and Poland as its leading powers, and with Germany taking a back seat, it swept away its federalising ambitions and turned into a loose, free-trade organisation. The Commission was cut down to size and the parliament scrapped. The Polish invitation to rejoin in 2038 was put to a referendum by the ageing prime minister Ed Miliband, and won decisively. 

3. AstraZeneca becomes world No.1

The failure of its overhyped Covid-19 vaccine turned out to be only a blip in the steady rise of AstraZeneca. As the pandemic worsened, governments around the world loosed restrictions on medical technology, permitting first “challenge vaccines” – those developed as a result of deliberately infecting volunteers – then DNA manipulation, and finally fewer regulatory hurdles and protection against litigation for pharma firms. As it happened, the coronavirus just petered out – experts later concluded it mutated into a harmless bug by late 2021 – but the innovation the crisis kick-started generated results in later years. Vaccines for most cancers were developed and the disease was virtually eliminated, and drugs to cure heart disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s became commonplace. AstraZeneca’s range of cancer vaccines pushed its market value beyond $5trn. 

4. Tesla relocated to Mars

It was only after Tesla’s eccentric boss Elon Musk became the richest man on the planet and after his company had acquired both Toyota and Volkswagen, that people paid attention to his declaration in 2020 that Mars would not only be colonised by his SpaceX company , but that it would also be a “free planet” not subject to Earth-made laws. By the late 2030s, SpaceX had already established a pioneering colony on Mars, and after the US Securities Exchange Commission launched an investigation into Musk’s management of the firm he moved its HQ there permanently, as well as its listing, declaring that no Earth-based body had jurisdiction over his company. But the Mars Stock Exchange got off to a wobbly start, crashing soon after it was launched, despite the enthusiasm of investors. 

5. The FTSE 100 hits 25,000

After the Covid-19 crash of 2020, the FTSE 100 was below the level it was trading at when the century started. With the economy in deep recession, it struggled over the next few years, but by the late 2020s it took off spectacularly and by 2040 had risen almost five-fold to hit 25,000. Leaving the EU freed the economy from a raft of regulations and led to a boom in technology start-ups outside of Europe’s restrictive data laws. It led the way in fintech – especially after Monzo took over Barclays – and in artificial intelligence. Its pharma firms rode a wave of medical innovation and its oil giants reinvented themselves as green energy conglomerates, even as fossil fuels were banned in Europe and the US. At the end of those two decades it went from being the worst major market in the world to the best. 

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