Despite a temporary slowdown in growth companies, we have strong conviction in select areas of technology.
Ian Schaeffer, Global Investment Strategist
Tech stocks suffered over the past year, but that doesn’t mean the end of long-term opportunities. Exciting technological breakthroughs that may generate strong investment returns are still possible: Look at ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence (AI) language chatbot that launched in November 2022 and attracted over one billion visits just during February 2023.1
Many (if not most) of the fast-growing disruptors we think will drive innovation in the coming years are early-stage private companies. To access such opportunities means turning to private market investing.
We believe private markets are likely to offer higher long-term returns than the public equity market benchmark, and the past few months’ tough macro environment hasn’t dimmed our excitement. Recent technical dynamics lean in private funds’ favor.2 And we have strong a conviction in the fundamental timeliness and necessity of many emerging innovations.
Growth equity does come with risks. Return dispersion among fund managers should rise, as loss ratios likely do. Plus, growth investing inherently comes with a higher loss ratio than the broad equity markets.
The six areas of growth and innovation in which we have the strongest conviction are artificial intelligence (AI), automation and robotics, cybersecurity, ecommerce, cloud software and electrification. Here’s why—and some best use cases, starting with those lately generating the most interest:
1. Artificial intelligence: With recent advances, poised for a surge in investment
AI’s science and engineering have the potential to spur massive change in how many industries, professions—indeed how we all—carry out daily tasks. Virtual assistants and chatbots can already reply to written queries with language that seems eerily human. AI’s real impact, though, will be felt over the long term. ChatGPT’s generative AI (AI trained on a vast dataset that can respond to user inputs with creative new text, images and other media) should particularly impact our daily lives.
Industry leaders using these breakthroughs have already launched more accurate iterations with greater sensitivity to users’ tones and contexts, and the ability to respond to images. This allows generative AI to describe visual environments in real time. For example, a mobile app that helps visually impaired people is unveiling an AI-powered tool that can take a photo someone uploads of the contents of their refrigerator, and tell the user what’s there and dinner recipes using those ingredients. The steady cadence of innovation helped investment in AI to rise sharply in 2021.
AI aligns closely with reshoring (of offshore facilities) and deglobalization. Companies moving plants closer to home may turn to AI to ease higher labor costs. That could help drive a surge in private sector AI investment in the coming years.
Additional AI use cases include:
- Medicine—To help read radiological imaging to detect diseases
- Consumer applications—For real-time pricing of goods and services (such as ride hailing)
- Drug discovery—To aid pharmaceutical companies in combing through vast datasets
2. Automation and robotics: Critical for companies to remain competitive
Meanwhile, amid today’s tight U.S. labor market, companies have a pressing need to improve efficiency and reduce the time staff spend on redundant tasks. Like AI, automation3 technologies may come to the rescue. Global automation and robotics markets are projected to quadruple in size from 2023 to 2030, from about $39 billion to $160 billion.4
Advanced automation and robotics are also related to “smart security,” an investing area that’s come to the fore since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.5 Defense companies producing advanced drones (and other autonomous surveillance technologies) consider it a priority. Many manufacturers have already deployed advanced automation as part of these devices.
Other use cases for automation and robotics include:
- Mining and manufacturing—To handle dangerous materials and processes
- Supply chain automation—For simple tasks such as physical delivery
- Restaurants and dining—To take orders and bring out food
- Security automation—With software playing an increasingly important role in conflicts, security and physical defense automation will likely become critical
3. Cybersecurity: Anticipating continued demand as threats multiply
Cybersecurity6 has become crucial to defending government, corporate and even consumers’ infrastructure, particularly now that cloud computing offers bad actors an even greater attack surface to infiltrate.
Cybersecurity also enables all the technological advancements we’ve described. Without it, companies couldn’t invent or invest in innovation, and governments could not keep secrets.
That it is so essential helps explain why the value of cybersecurity private equity (PE) deals appeared to remain relatively resilient during the volatile market environment of 2022. Cybersecurity deals in the first three quarters of 2022 roughly equaled all of 2021.7
Cybersecurity use cases include:
- Tech, financial and other firms—To enhance cyber defense, facilitate remote work particularly in the cloud, and to allow safe storage, secure management and easy retrieval of sensitive data
- Social media companies—To safeguard online users’ data
- Energy companies—To protect critical infrastructure
4. E-commerce: Declining valuations may offer an attractive entry point
E-commerce has increasingly permeated our lives. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated its growth as a percentage of retail sales, and the trend is likely to continue rising.
Like PE, venture capital (VC) funding flows into e-commerce were relatively resilient during a tough year: Median and average valuations of VC firms’ holdings in late-stage, e-commerce startups climbed in 2022, even after surging in 2021. Recently, some signs point to a decline in these extraordinarily high valuations, which could open the door for new investors seeking an attractive entry point.
Promising e-commerce use cases include:
- Traditional businesses—For transitioning to a hybrid model (brick-and-mortar and online sales), opening new marketplaces
- Social media—To provide a livestreaming platform for influencers promoting and selling goods and services
- Commerce—For business-to-consumer, business-to-business and consumer-to-consumer transactions
5. Cloud software: Corporate storage, analytics may propel growth
The use of cloud software8 has become ubiquitous across industries and central to how many large enterprises function. (Some cloud applications also target and serve consumers.) The global cloud computing market is expected to grow rapidly—from under $500 billion today to almost $1.4 trillion by 2030.9
Use cases in which we have strong conviction include:
- Data storage and access—To allow corporations, individuals and social media platforms to store files (including vast photo and video files) and collaborate from any device, anywhere
- Analytics—To analyze data stored on cloud platforms for business insights
- Crisis resiliency—For backup strategies to store and recover critical files in an emergency
6. Electrification: Energy storage and battery recycling could be key
The transition to renewable energy will require decades of innovation across industries. Electrifying transportation will likely be key. The rising popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) has produced an urgent need for battery (and parts) recycling—a new circular supply chain.
We see promise in several companies pioneering recycling processes and technologies, and forging partnerships across EV and energy storage industries, since collection will be a costly challenge. Also exciting is remanufacturing lithium-ion batteries using recycled content.
Partnerships with automakers will be important to achieve economies of scale and create a robust closed-loop battery ecosystem. In the future, we anticipate an industry that will help solve environmental challenges and unlock a new source of raw materials at a time of material shortages.10
Electrification use cases include:
- Properties—For lower-emission electricity to power appliances (e.g., heat pumps) in place of natural gas
- Mass transit—The electrification of public transport
- Semiconductors and other component makers—Sales should rise for manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and other infrastructure crucial to the energy transition
- Recycling—To reduce pollution and increase supply of rare, critical materials during the energy transition
Where does growth fit into your portfolio?
Your allocation to growth will vary based on your risk tolerance. We generally think many investors should maintain a 10%–20% allocation to growth within the venture capital portion of their portfolios in order to access long-term growth opportunities that may not be available in public markets.
Notable risks of growth equity investing include managers’ return dispersion (which is dramatic compared to the broad market) and a higher loss ratio than other investments. With the end of the easy money era, we expect loss ratios11 to normalize around 15%–20%.
VC funding for technology has retreated to pre-pandemic levels after an unusual period in 2021 when deals and valuations soared. This decline isn’t unexpected because of tight financial conditions, and since private markets typically follow public market downturns, with a lag.
An economic slowdown may help identify the best managers. More competitive dynamics, in the absence of easy money, tend to favor more tenured growth investors with experience picking winning companies in different economic environments. Indeed, recent history has shown that funds with experienced managers tend to retain their values during volatile markets, while newer managers have seen their aggregate fund values fall.
As conditions tighten, managers will also become more selective, and VC firms should have the power to negotiate better deals with companies that need cash, even with higher funding costs.
In sum, we think this is an attractive entry point—particularly with experienced managers—into the private market, as well as early-stage growth and innovation.
If you’d like to discuss your portfolio’s allocation to growth and whether you have the right level of exposure to innovation, ask your J.P. Morgan team about the growth managers on our platform whose niche specialties target various sectors, stages and areas of innovation.
3 Automation involves improving the efficiency of processes through hardware and/or software than can reduce or eliminate the need for human labor, generally for redundant tasks.
4 Ralph Lässig, Markus Lorenz, Emmanuel Sissimatos, Ina Wicker, and Tilman Buchner, Robotics Outlook 2030, Boston Consulting Group, June 2021.
5 Ian Schaeffer, “Smart security: Ongoing megatrend and investment hedge to geopolitical tensions,” J.P. Morgan Private Bank, May 2022.
6 Cybersecurity refers to the online and physical protection of data against cyberattacks, including hacking, denial of service attacks, malware, data theft and other cybercrimes.
7 Madeline Shi, “PE dealmaking thrives in cybersecurity sector,” Pitchbook, August 2022.
8 Cloud software is a broad term encompassing all the computing power and data storage services necessary to keep large amounts of data in the secure and accessible in a central location without active management by the user.
9 “Cloud Computing Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Service (SaaS, IaaS), By End-use (BFSI, Manufacturing), By Deployment (Private, Public), By Enterprise Size (Large, SMEs), And Segment Forecasts, 2023–2030,” Grand View Research, 2023.
10 Recycling companies in the United States also now stand to benefit from new laws, such as the Inflation Reduction Act.
11 The loss ratio is the ratio of the number of investments that end up going toward defaulted deals (worth zero) relative to the total number of investments made in a fund.