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Five platforms for innovative growth

Sep 04, 2020

Innovation requires investment. But what are the best areas to invest in? Matthew J. Moberg details five growing platforms that companies should think of as investment opportunities.

Innovation can be found in any part of the economy and people seek to invest wherever innovation occurs, regardless of sector classification, market capitalisation or geographical location.

There have been significant breakthroughs in many sectors. To organise the change occurring in the economy, here are five major evolving platforms of growth.

Global e-commerce

Global e-commerce is an arena of tremendous opportunity. Estimated global sales were only 14% penetrated by e-commerce pre-COVID-19. Today, with the new reality of COVID-19, we have seen estimates of between 22–25% penetration.

Even in the United States, so-called “highly” penetrated industries, like travel, books, office supplies and media are, on average, only 41% penetrated. There are many more industries—like groceries and global transportation—that are only modestly penetrated by e-commerce.

Other opportunities include business-to-business (B2B) procurement and software that enables brick-and-mortar companies to have an online presence. The common perception may be that global e-commerce is at a late stage in the innovation cycle. In my view, there is so much further to go.

Genetics breakthroughs

The sequencing – or decoding – of the gene is one of the greatest accomplishments of our era. The gene was discovered in 1953 but first sequenced during the Human Genome Project in 2003 at a cost of US$2.7 billion. The cost of gene sequencing has fallen rapidly in recent years. We believe the industry is on the cusp of creating meaningful diagnostics and therapeutics and, as a result, wealth creation. These opportunities may go beyond human gene therapeutics, to agricultural and even artificial intelligence applications.

Intelligent machines

Artificial intelligence or machine learning is permeating every layer of product development. From using simulation tools to advanced graphics to designing products and getting immediate feedback as to points of weakness in a structure, or real-time intelligence on wear and tear that can feed back into new designs – smart machines are involved.

If the last 30 years were spent organising data with mainframes, personal computers and mobile phones, the next 30 years could be set up to take that data and change our lives in the physical world. There could be opportunities in companies that intelligently design, manufacture, transport and maintain physical machines, in addition to investing, of course, in the machines themselves.

New finance

Access to capital is one of the fundamental differences between developed and developing countries – the grease that allows efficient transfer of value. I believe there are three vectors that drive access to capital.

The first is the concept of what constitutes money. In the past, people bartered for goods and services, which can be very inefficient. We have moved from barter to precious metals – backed by their own innate scarcity – to fiat currency backed by the full faith and credit of a government. Today, we are talking about currencies backed by algorithms.

Similarly, the other two vectors, efficient pricing and methods of exchange, have also significantly evolved. In the past, the better barterer determined the price of your goods and services; then it was a loan officer at a bank with all their intrinsic biases.

Today, we are increasingly using data to appropriately price risk, allowing us to allocate capital in more efficient ways. Methods of exchange are also evolving with the trends in e-commerce, allowing mobile payments and digital wallets to gain traction.

Exponential data

Underlying virtually all our investment themes is the constant of data. Without data, none of these platforms can be successful. But data isn’t virtual—there is a physical component to data that is often ignored. We need to clean the collected data, then store and deliver the same data. That requires massive amounts of data centres, fibre-optic cable, and cell towers, among other supporting infrastructure. To use data for something like artificial intelligence, computing power and memory are crucial. Graphics processing units, central processing units and field-programmable gate arrays represent some of the many components necessary to process that data more efficiently.

The creation, cleaning, storage and delivery of data will lead to new applications like augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, software as a service, and the sharing economy. There are many investment opportunities in companies that play critical roles all along this value chain. Some have postulated data is becoming the oil or gold of the new economy.

Matthew J. Moberg is Vice President Portfolio Manager at Franklin Templeton. This article is the sole opinion of the author.

A version of this article was first published in The FM Report.