I just have a good feeling about 2011. I think it’s going to be a great year. I’ve thought a lot about where the optimism is coming from, and I don’t think it’s all subjective. Very important things happened in 2010, such as the incredibly pivotal visit by the Chinese Premier to Pakistan, Pakistan’s establishment drawing a very clear line with respect to interests it is not willing to compromise, wonderful progress with important programs like the JF-17, the arrival of product-focused Pakistani software companies like Pepper.pk who “ruled the world” with their #1 BlackBerry application, the rapid implementation of That Coal projects under the able leadership of Dr. Samar Mubarakmand and much else.
And in addition to all these things there’s the visible progress one can see unfolding in our cities. For example, with a hundred kilometers of brand spanking new, 6-lane highways (The Ring Road) in Lahore, commuting across the city in 2010 was so much easier than in 2009. New services like Qubee, added to the competition on the broadband side and Pakistan’s cellular market continued to grow with near 100M cell phones now in use in the country. To put things in perspective, that’s more cell phones than the number of people living in the UK and Italy put together!
Also, in defence of my optimism, I have to say that I haven’t fared badly with my predictions in the past. That’s not to say I couldn’t be off for 2011, but here’s a glimpse into the past:
With that prelude, let’s get to it. Here is how I see 2011 unfolding:
The parliament is not going anywhere. This PM may or may not last, but the Parliament is well on its way to completing its 5 years. I think it will navigate 2011 in tact. And if that happens, with less than a year to go in 2012, term completion will be well within sight and all but certain.
The Congress Government in India will continue to get less popular and Mr. Manmohan Singh’s “clean” image will become a thing of the past. Corruption is going to be a massive story for India in 2011.
Mr. Obama will see an increase in his popularity rating. It currently stands at -12 according to the Rasmussen Reports. We’ll see how he ends the year up in 2011, but my guess is he could be close to neutral territory. This improvement will come from the improvement in economic conditions in 2011, as well as a greater willingness to work with the Republicans in the House.
Security and the situation in Northwest Pakistan
2010 saw a 35% reduction in the number of terror attacks. 2011 will continue that trend. There will be a close to 25% further reduction in the number of terror attacks. The reach of these attacks will, for the most part, stay limited to the Northwest. The Pakistan Army will make moves in the NWA region, but these will not be in the form of a full-fledged onslaught at the scale of the Swat operation.
NATO will begin to significantly ease up on operations in Afghanistan. They will still be there at the end of 2011, but will no longer be looking to aggressively take on the Taliban. Most of the fights between the two parties will occur as the Taliban attack NATO convoys, posts or bases. NATO may retaliate, but will not run a strategic campaign of any significance. 2011 is the year that will see an increase in outreach to Taliban and the beginnings of negotiating at a post-NATO agreement. The biggest priority for the US will now be negotiating an exit for themselves and NATO which will allow them to claim a victory, even though the reality will be far from it.
2011 will see a reduction in the number of drone strikes in FATA, as compared to 2010.
Android will end 2011 as the dominant mobile platform. Apple will not be able to reverse the trend that began in 2010. I would predict that Android will go from its current 22.7% of the US smartphone market to close to 33%. Overall, while 30% of the current US population of cell phone users use smartphones, by the end of 2011, this 30% will grow to 45% at least. All these 2010 statistics are based on December estimates from Nielsen.
Tablets will be the major consumer device story in 2011. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. But non-Apple tablets will continue to increase their market share. Today, the iPad has 95% market share, but by the end of 2011, this will be reduced to 75%.
Mobile apps for phones and tablets will continue to attract more and more developer talent. I see 2011 ending with close to 700,000 apps available for all the major platforms. Currently, iOS and Android have about 400,000 apps between them and Blackberry probably another 12,000 or so. Windows Phone7 is so new, it hardly has any. By the end of 2011, you will likely see 400,000 iOS apps, 250,000 Android apps, 20,000 Blackberry apps and about 15,000 Phone7 apps. With tablet apps thrown in, this will get close to 700,000.
Pakistan’s software industry will see a good year. The momentum on the mobile development side will continue, and I see most of the established companies growing their teams and bringing on more talent. There are few metrics available to truly judge this, but we’ll pick a few leading illustrative cases in December 2011 and see how we fared.
Apple will launch the iPhone 5 this year, but it will be a defensive, bug fix kind of product rather than anything particularly innovative to help it leapfrog the numerous Windows Phone7 and Android devices hitting the market on a monthly basis. The biggest issue with the iPhone 4 was the antenna, and so the iPhone 5 will revolve around better antenna performance. Apple will do the usual dog and pony and claim that the iPhone 5 has the best designed antenna of any phone ever made etc. But in the end, the iPhone 5 will not succeed in stemming the tide of Android and Windows Phone7 phones. The important thing here is that 2011 will be the year of the commoditization of the Smartphone. There will be so many makes and models, with so many different OS choices that will offer basically equivalent functionality, that the market will start to make a shift towards the less expensive devices (i.e. Android).
We’ll learn a lot more about Windows 8 this year. While the central themes will be integration with the Cloud, make no mistake, this will be an honest-to-goodness PC operating system. It will showcase better visualization, add support for bigger, faster GPUs and will standardize 64-bit. We may see the first 128-bit mainstream OS among Windows 8′s several SKUs. No release in 2011 though, just more specificity on what the product will be and perhaps an alpha/CTP.
Virtualization, which has commanded the enterprise IT airwaves since 2007-8, will begin to take a back seat to other trends. As services that were once virtualized start to migrate to the cloud and outsource PaaS infrastructures, the value of virtualization in the enterprise will diminish somewhat. Obviously, the level of adoption is tremendous so it will take some time to happen, but 2011 will be the turning point and this will become evident with the decreased “cool” factor and reduced coverage. On the desktop side, inexpensive PCs, numerous new form factors like tablets with native apps and cell phones equipped with projectors etc. will begin to chip away at the desktop virtualization value proposition. I don’t think this shift will be visible enough to most to cause a major reduction in, say, VMware’s stock price (hovering around $90 right now).
Wateen and/or Warid will cease to be an independent operation in Pakistan. Their poor execution has cost them dearly. If it weren’t for the seemingly limitless capital available to them, they wouldn’t have survived as long as they have. They will likely be acquired by another major operator in the Pakistani market.
Netsol stock on the NASDAQ (NTWK) will have a good year, with at least one close above $2.25 during the year.
Financial and Economic Predictions
Pakistan’s GDP will grow by at least 4%, likely 4.3%. The current estimates of two point some are utter nonsense.
The KSE will continue to rise. I expect it to benefit from the improvement in the global economic environment and the greater clarity in the regional strategic equation. I’m projecting an at-least 15% rise, but it could be as high as 25%. If it comes close to the latter, then we may approach KSE’s all-time highs in the 16K range!
The US markets, the Dow and Nasdaq, will see an increase of about 8-10%.
Job data will be watched super closely in the US. There will be some improvement this year, but I don’t think it will be very rapid. My estimate would say a .4-.6% reduction in the unemployment rate by the end of 2011.
The housing market in the US will begin a tedious, painful and slow journey to recovery. With properties having dropped anywhere from 30-70% over the last couple of years, this year will probably see a 5% increase in average home prices.
The Pakistani Rs. will see some weakening this year. It fought off pessimistic estimates of a drop to 100/$ but in 2011 we may see a 5% or so weakening with respect to the US$.
Real estate prices will start to improve in Pakistan in 2011. More importantly, the number of deals being done will go up. I will use the index price of a 1 kanal plot in Gulberg, Lahore as an index when we revisit this in December 2011. The market price is currently at 1 crore 50 lacs.
And there we have it. I’ll revisit some of these through the year as they prove to be false or true. Stay tuned, and more importantly, have an absolutely amazing 2011! Happy New Year!