Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Three Things That Might Have Peaked in 2012

It is sometimes hard to tell when a category is reaching its peak and beginning a decline. Here are three categories that may have peaked in 2012.

  • Office supplies. If the “paperless office” means anything at all, then eventually, people will have to start using office supplies in smaller quantities. The stress at Hewlett-Packard is one indication of that. A more specific indication comes from the latest quarterly report from Staples, which showed revenue down 3 percent from a year ago. Most office supplies and equipment have to do with paper documents: printing them, filing them, mailing them, even stapling them. As people are not printing documents quite so often, all of this is declining.
  • Text messages. I wrote a year ago about how uncool and low-tech text messaging had become compared to more recent innovations, particularly Twitter. Also this year Apple began re-routing some text messages that go from one iPhone to another so that they bypass the telephone system. Now there is a report that the total volume of text messages has declined for the first time ever.
  • Oil. There is a buzz about oil this week after the IEA released a rosy report about the future of oil production. The IEA forecast pins its hopes on huge oil production volumes from fracking in the contiguous United States, but a consensus of engineers and scientists say that is not only unlikely, but absurd. The IEA’s report also does not properly take into account the increases in the cost of extraction as the oil that remains is harder to reach. In the past, IEA reports have been sober and realistic, but this one reads like an oil industry lobbying report. Why would the IEA be so eager to exaggerate the future prospects for oil? Whether it is because of political influence or to avoid a panic (the two most common theories), it lends credence to the thought that the oil industry is already under the kind of stress that would occur as revenue begins to decline. So it may be that oil is near its peak or that it already hit its peak volume at some point this year.