Now is the Winter of our discontent?

EW columnist Bjoern Kempe says eight golden years are over – prepare for Winter!


It’s official – eight golden years are over. Several global economies such as Japan, Germany, UK and Italy have announced slowdown and even negative GDP growth for the last quarter.

Do we remember 2008, the global financial crisis? I rather think we all do. What is so different between 2008 and 2019, and could a new economic global crisis last even longer? There are, in my view, several factors that we need to consider:


1. UK Brexit – with Boris Johnson I expect a hard landing … it will hit also all our fellow UK-listed exhibition companies.

2. Italy recession and political crisis. This could, after Greece, be the next thing that will shake up Europe. Oh, and I remember we do have plenty of Italian-listed and government organisers, so also a hard time for them could be in store.

3. Germany – Angela on the way out and ZEW (its an economic barometer in Germany) at a record 11-year low of confidence with several companies like Henkel, Siemens, Daimler, BMW, Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Machinery Manufactures, METRO, Kaufhof/Karstadt department store, Steelmakers etc all posting plummeting quarterly results. German Messe companies will have a cold winter coming, too with elections likely in the mix and consumer confidence diving lower. We are hearing the first calls also for the privatisation of some German Messe companies.

4. USA – President Trump and an uncertain picture around his re-campaign; a Federal Reserve Bank that is between rate hike and following the President’s calls; a looming trade conflict with China and Europe, as well as several global flashpoints in Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan, Kashmir etc that might develop into proper war games…

5. Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Japan, Philippines, India, Indonesia and, I believe, many more countries with nationalistic leaders that promote “their countries first” before anything else … are unlikely to add any positive impulse for the global economy.

6. China, with plenty of problems within the country affecting stabilising GDP, its ongoing trade conflict with USA and with Hong Kong/Taiwan as areas of potential political conflict. Growing manpower cost, climate changes, security issues, transitioning the economy into a service economy and high-tech challenges make for a lot for the central government to get to grips with.




So, as a very optimistic person myself, I have to say the global outlook has never looked worse than today. If I count 1+1 together I can also see that our exhibition industry, which is mainly involved in these six geographies, will feel a global impact and it’s going to be hard if not painful.

All major exhibition companies are already experiencing challenges in 2019 and this is just the beginning. A few ‘safe heavens’ such as ASEAN, Middle East, Africa and Australia will be the exceptions. Most of the exhibition companies will feel the pressures from their local market economies and the missing coins in the Chinese exhibitors’ pockets. Chinese companies might not want to join shows anymore and follow instead their nationally led programmes globally. 

I reported six months ago that the buyer’s market had turned into a seller’s market – with a record number of private exhibition companies in Asia selling out. This trend has increased and, as a broker, have never seen such strong increase in old established family companies wanting to sell out. Yet, another alarming sign of a cold winter coming.

Globally we saw consolidation continuing with Tarsus, MackBrooks, Comexposium etc in Q1/Q2 so I believe more to come in Q3/4. It’s not over yet. I am also very surprised at the speed that consolidation is continuing. I would be not surprised see our industry down to just a dozen major global players within 3-5 years. Finally multiples are coming down, so that can provide some relief for all major top 10 players.

We all know that our industry is always a mirror of global economy and very often we see things coming earlier than the rest. I hope that all of us are prepared for the coming years that are not going to be easy and that we are prepared enough to withstand global economical, political, financial, technical and climate related challenges. Please ask yourself when you plan your budgets for 2020 if you have considered these factors?

I hope to discuss this and more with all of you during the upcoming UFI Congress in Bangkok and possible to find ways to get our industry together stronger than ever before. 

Crisis always means a chance to adjust, re-think, innovate and change. I believe this global downturn comes at the right moment at peak of consolidation of our industry to properly accelerate our industry even further. As long as we understand the challenges that are coming, we are able to work with them and master them.

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