With its abundance of lights and seasonal decorations, there are few better times of the year to visit New York. Your author is recently returned from a flying visit to the US East Coast. Taking in Boston and Manhattan, he had meetings with seven companies over three days, involving C-level management at three of them. Everyone seemed full of ebullient festive cheer. The streets across both cities were packed with shoppers – no visible sign of a consumer slowdown – and almost every executive whom your author met seemed to believe that AI could be a game changer for their business.

Move over Silicon Valley. New York is where it’s at with technology. This is neither hype nor hubris. The city now employs close on 400,000 people in tech – more than work in the financial sector. Several exciting businesses including MongoDB (databases) and UI Path (automation software) have their headquarters in the city. Others, such as Google, are opening dedicated New York facilities.

Every business whom we met stressed that software purchasing decisions had become a C-suite issue. Such discussions are seen as business-critical and non-discretionary, we were told with regularity. Admittedly, there may have been some self-interest in these observations given that the companies encountered are in the business of selling software. AI was described to as “democratising”, an “opportunity”, a “driver of a new wave of development” and “an accelerator for discovery.” One executive even said it would “change the world.”

Exciting expressions, for sure, but the reality may be somewhat different. At least some businesses did caution that “it’s still very early days”, “no-one really knows how to use it” and that while 12 months (since the advent of Chat-GPT) might be a long time for those on Wall Street, for most businesses, planning and budgeting cycles practically take place at a much slower pace. As in fairytales, then, it might not all be plain sailing. Prepare for potential disappointment amidst elevated expectations in certain market pockets.

One other popular fairytale trope is the evil actor, or malign presence. Few whom we met wanted to address this topic explicitly, but one executive cautioned that many businesses and investors were “in denial” about the possibility of President Trump regaining the Presidency next year. Per the 2016 playbook, all industries could be affected. At the least, a ratcheting up of geopolitical tensions (and related trade restrictions) would impact the tech sector, and clearly others too. For now, let’s hope for happy endings.

14 December 2023

The above does not constitute investment advice and is the sole opinion of the author at the time of publication. Past performance is no guide to future performance and the value of investments and income from them can fall as well as rise.

Photo taken by the author

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Alex Gunz, Fund Manager

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