In an eventful 2017, Elon Musk my ‘Person of the Year’

By Mr. Navneet Munot

Like every year, there were several contenders.

North Korea’s ‘little rocket man’ can take it easy as Trump, America’s Twitter-in-chief is likely to be occupied with his real agenda on Tehran, Trade and Tax for some time. The pace of hiring and firing makes the White House look like an AirBnb guest house. The costliest guest for Trump could be Special Counsel Mueller investigating Russian involvement in elections. Steve Bannon may be out, the Bannonism lives on. The Americans witnessed a total solar eclipse but the Charlottesville videos were a lot darker. May Jerusalem send the true spirit of holy messages from all religions to United States of Amnesia. That would truly make America great again.

Catalonians played the freedom song on the Spanish Guitar, but strings of dissent are visible across Europe. Interestingly, from Austria to Ireland, young leaders are emerging everywhere in ageing Europe. I think the ‘liberal’ dose of M3 (Merkel, Macron and Mario (Draghi)) will keep the grand idea of Europe afloat. Notwithstanding lesser powers, Angela Merkel will remain the “Wonder Woman” in continental “Justice League”. Theresa May’s Divided Kingdom invoked Article 50 and is negotiating Brexit. Unlikely that Brussels makes it an easy 50:50 deal.

Jacob Zuma and the Mugabe couple’s long honeymoon with power is reaching an end. A classic case of how politician corrupted by cronies can convert a great African safari into a Jungle-Raj.

My heart goes out to the Yemenis, Rohingyas, Syrians and Venezuelans dying of hunger. In a world with bountiful food and obesity issues, the average Venezuelan reportedly lost 19 pounds in weight. Those killing innocents in London, Barcelona or Manhattan are condemnable, but what about weapon manufacturers who find ways for uninterrupted supplies to killers?

Crude oil gave a rude shock to those writing obituaries on fossil fuel. Demand grew while Saudi Prince’s determination to arrest OPEC supply as well as other oligarchs fueled the rally. Support of Putin’s Kremlin, Shale producers and geopolitical risks could add more steam.

I thought of the great global equity rally. Risk assets rode high on a concoction of synchronized growth sans inflation, continuing central back largesse and creative stories like a new technological renaissance. No price is considered high enough for FAANG stocks in US or TATS, their Asian equivalents. ETF managers are the new Lords of the Ring. I will now bet on surviving active managers. Dear Warren Buffet, another bet?

Why not Bitcoin? Yes, blockchain technology has massive potential but what stops virtual miners from creating unlimited types of limited edition chit-coin, kit-coin or s*itcoin. What’s in a name? A coin by any other name would sell as sweet. Don’t ask Da Vinci to solve this code, he is busy in heaven painting another $450 million piece.

Jerome Powell may continue to yell dovishly like Yellen, but is well advised to cap the well of liquidity. Other central banks should pay heed. Ballooning asset prices and technological shifts are creating riches for a privileged few while stagnating real income growth for the majority. Divide can make Ed Sheeran a popular star but economic divide will turn popular tide against policy makers.

I thought of Xi Jinping, the most powerful leader in China’s recent history. Whether it’s crackdown on pollution, corruption and shadow banking, naval expansion in the South China Sea, One Belt-One Road project or progress in scientific research, the world

underestimates China’s ambitions. China is more than willing and working hard to occupy the space vacated by US as the prominent super power. Only time will tell whether it rises on top or crumbles under its debt burden.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Usain Bolt deserve accolades but Roger Federer mesmerised us. What a comeback! With his perfection, agility and calmness, he looked like a meditator on the court.

I am looking forward to the Tokyo Olympics as a gracefully aging Japan welcomes us with young robots. Mrs. Watanabe can cheer with Abenomics bringing a cherry blossom of rising growth and stock prices.

‘The crying game’ played in private for so long by Hollywood’s ‘Heavenly Creatures’ is now in public. Harvey Weinstein was apparently not a ‘Shakespeare in Love’ but a ‘Frankenstein in Lust’. The collective power of beauty tamed high-profile beasts from Senators to Silicon Valley this year. Driving license to Saudi women is just a symbol, women are increasingly in the drivers’ seat across fields.

Shashi Kapoor crossed the ‘Deewar’ of life. Roger Moore, the man with the golden gun ended his Bond with this world. Disney’s twist in the tale of Murdoch & Sons made an interesting climax.

Modi’s India cheered Ranking fall (ease of doing business) and Rating rise (Moody’s). The midnight launch of GST is India’s another ‘tryst with destiny’. Hopefully, next year if Gabbar Singh asks “Kitne Tax dete hai”, Kaalia’s answer would be ‘Sarkar, everyone.’ Rahul (RG) had a Hardik desire to win Gujarat. His prayers did ring bells, but couldn’t stop Modi’s chariot reaching the assembly. Yogi is the Nath (lord) of UP, a state with 200 million inhabitants, as large as Brazil. The Supreme Court Single-mindedly supported women, set aside Double standards and banned Triple talaaq.

I salute the Indian scientists who discovered a new supercluster, Saraswati, some 4,000 million light years away. May the force be with these Jedi knights, the real Guardians of our galaxy. Fake Godmen like Gurmeet saw their stars waning.

Indian investors are SIPping mutual funds while sapping their connection with real estate and gold. Hope the funds and expectations remain “balanced”. Insurers claimed a hefty equity gain from primary markets. Retail lenders had a wholesome time. Bankers were empowered to deal with bad loans and showered with recap bonds to make good loans next year.

If ‘data’ is the new oil, India can create the biggest OPEC — Open Platform for Entrepreneurs and Civil Society. Aadhaar will be the Aadhaar (foundation) of India’s high-rise in a digitalised world. A billion plus connected citizens can transform India from a ‘data poor’ to the most ‘data rich’ society. Of course, we must protect against cyber-risks like ‘wannacry’, if we wanna try to drill the deepest well. If this data is public property, then it should primarily be used for collective prosperity. We will only be constrained by our imagination.

Harvey Hurricane, Mexican earthquake and floods across the world reminded us the inconvenient truth of climate-change. Wildfires raged across California, while the Supreme Court doused fireworks to ease Delhi’s pollution chamber. Despite getting trumped by US, Bonn COP23 summit promised to power past coal and contain emissions ‘further, faster and together’. We need much more sparks of innovation.

The world may be more prosperous but humanity is facing immense challenges like climate change, inequality and technological disruptions. Amidst deteriorating political discourse and unimaginative policymaking, a breed of entrepreneurs are striving to tunnel alternative solutions.

Elon Musk is one such visionary. This immigrant entrepreneur’s batteries are always super-charged with innovative ideas like Hyperloop, electric trucks, Open AI and Neuralink. He shows strands of Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison. His views on potential of artificial intelligence versus our natural irrationality are worthy of deeper debate. Tesla’s Model-S may not be the eventual leader in the EV race, the stock may perhaps crash, SpaceX may succumb to financial strains but hopefully Elon’s legacy as an intrepid innovator and dreamer will inspire future generations of entrepreneurs. The sheer ingenuity to change the world (and beyond) makes Elon Musk my ‘Person of the Year’. A Standing Innovation!

(The author is CIO, SBI Mutual Fund.)