Coyle highlights “scourge of technology hype”

The emergence of new technologies has led to important structural changes in the global economy, says Diane Coyle, head of Enlightenment Economics.

Coyle, also a member of the UK Competition Commission, says there is often a lot of hype generated during the infancy of new technologies, which can lead to share price bubbles.

People are prone to overestimating the short-term impact of technologies and not recognising that these growth stories take time to deliver, says Coyle. “The hype about the dotcom boom was not wrong, just too early,” she says.

The globalisation of economies through technological advance has also led to an increase in corporate fragility, she argues.

The production chain for many goods has split up, with companies in different countries producing separate components for one product. Components now make up about one-third of all cross-border trade in products and developing countries account for an ever-increasing proportion of goods manufacturing, explains Coyle.

These structural changes have led the economies of many developed countries, including America and Britain, to focus more heavily on provision of services rather than production of goods.

Real GDP growth in the UK was 29% during the 1980s and 25% in the 1990s. This compares with an increase in the weight of materials used of just 15% and 2% in the respective periods, says Coyle.

Many companies rely heavily on intangible assets including branding, marketing and logistics, which may have considerable value but are often fragile and more vulnerable to event risk. “Companies can lose their worth overnight,” she says.

Corporate longevity of American firms has fallen dramatically, Coyle adds, with S&P 500 companies now having an average life of about 15 years, compared with a corresponding figure of 80 years in 1930.