Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 22, 2022

Thematic Investing: Moonshots

With Ed Stanley and Adam Jonas


Ed Stanley; Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Ed Stanley, Morgan Stanley's Head of Thematic Research based in London.

Adam Jonas; And I'm Adam Jonas, Head of the Global Autos and Shared Mobility Team.

Ed Stanley: And on this special episode of the podcast, we'll be discussing the bold potential of moonshot technologies, and particularly in the face of deepening global recession fears. It's Thursday, the 22nd of September, at 4 p.m. in London.

Adam Jonas: And 11 a.m. in New York.

Adam Jonas: Let me start with an eye popping number. Since 2000, 1% of companies have generated roughly 40% of shareholder returns by developing moonshots, that is ambitious and radical solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems using disruptive technology. So here at Morgan Stanley Research, we naturally spend a lot of time wondering what are the potential moonshots of the next decade? What's the next light bulb, airplane, satellite, internet? What technologies are developing literally as I record this that we'll be focused on in 2032? So Ed, I know you really want to dig into the specifics of some of the sectors that are touched on in the Moonshot Technologies report you wrote, but first can you maybe explain the framework for identifying these moonshots?

Ed Stanley: So this is a totally different horizon and way of thinking to what most investors are used to. Typically, when looking for investable themes or technologies in public markets, we focus on those that are at or have surpassed a 20% adoption rate, those essentially with the wind at their back already. But clearly, with moonshots, we're looking much, much earlier, but with a much greater risk reward skew. There are a number of potentially groundbreaking technologies out there incubating right now. The next iPhone moment is out there, is being developed, and it should be all of our job to sniff out what, when and where that pivotal product will come from. But the question we've received is how do you whittle that funnel of potential technologies down? So we come at it from first principles. Academic research, either by individuals, governments or companies, tends to be the genesis for most groundbreaking ideas. This then feeds patenting, or in other words R&D, for small and big companies alike to build a moat around that research they pioneered. And then venture capital comes in to support some of those speculative innovations, but importantly, only those that have product market fit, which is what we focus on.

Adam Jonas: So Ed, why do you think now is such an interesting time to be thinking about moonshots, given such a challenging macro backdrop?

Ed Stanley: It's a great question. So if you take a step back, there are always reasons to be concerned in the markets. But moments of peak anxiety in hindsight tend to be the moments of peak opportunity. I'll steal an overused cliche, necessity is the mother of invention. We're more likely to see breakthroughs in energy technology, for example, at the moment, at the point of peak acute pain than five years ago when there was no real impetus. This is exactly why some of the most innovative companies are born during or just after recession or inflationary periods. In fact, if you look at the stats, one third of Fortune 500 companies were born in the handful of recessionary years over the last century. So macro may be getting worse, but we remain pretty committed to uncovering long term, game changing themes and investments.

Adam Jonas: Can you give us a summary of the output and to which moonshots really stood out to you as having the potential for profound change over the medium term?

Ed Stanley: Sure. So there are clearly some that are not only profound but frankly unfathomable in terms of their potential impacts. Things like life extension, a startup developing artificial general intelligence, also known as a singularity, and Web3 remains a fascinating sandbox of crypto and blockchain experiments. So there's a wealth of fascinating moonshots in there, but I'd focus on two that have more prescient implications for investors near-term. First is pre-fab housing. It's nothing new as a concept. It's essentially the process of bringing construction into the factory to increase efficiency. But we're now moving from 2D assemblies of walls and roof panels to the real moonshot, which is 3D assembly of the entire house, pre-made, and that is now happening. These pre-built whole houses can be 40 to 50% cheaper and quicker, and so coming back to your question around why now? Moonshots like this have little momentum in good years, but construction input costs up 20% year on year, suddenly you have the catalyst for innovative, greener, low waste pre-fab solutions. And the second one, I think is really fascinating and few people are well versed in it, is deepfakes and the new era of synthetic reality. These are livestream videos and voice renderings to create the impression that you are watching or speaking to someone that you are not. And I think by highlighting this, we are also trying to show that not all moonshots are good news. At the moment, the risk is fake news, but that is the tip of the iceberg.

Ed Stanley But with that said, Adam, I want to jump to you. You're the perfect person to speak to given your knowledge of EVs in particular. And just like the smartphone market, those were once considered to be far fetched moonshots by some people, and yet they're heading towards ubiquity. So you've written a lot in the last couple of years around the "muskonomy", as you call it. Before we get into some moonshots you're interested in, can you explain to us what the "muskonomy" is?

Adam Jonas: We're referring to the portfolio of businesses and endeavors of Elon Musk, of course, across EVs and batteries and renewable energy and autonomous vehicles. Of course, his efforts in space and tunneling technology. Taken together we think he's in a position where any improvement in one of those businesses can help the advancement and accelerate development of the other three domains and then kind of feedback on itself and create a bit of velocity. But the point is, these businesses address huge physical markets. Markets that address the atomic economy, what I mean by that, the periodic table not the not the metaverse. Right, we need to kind of sort reality out here. These are high CapEx businesses, high moat businesses where trillions and trillions of capital will need to be redeployed with regulatory oversight, environmental planning, supply chain, industrialization, standards setting and of course, taxpayer involvement along the way.

Ed Stanley: It's a fascinating point, which we touched on in some of our other research around the innovation stack and how building technology on top of other layers of technology accelerates the disruption. I'm keen to understand from an investability perspective, what time horizons do you think we could expect some of these breakthroughs in? And where are the tailwinds coming from?

Adam Jonas: Right now, of course his efforts in EVs are well known. What I think is less appreciated is changing how manufacturing is done. Elon wants to make a car, ideally out of a single piece of injected molded aluminum in a 12,000 ton giga press. To really make a fuselage of a car and take the parts count down dramatically. And he wants to inject into this fuselage his structural battery pack, his 4680 battery battery pack. And so changing how vehicles are made and designing the battery into the car is something that really excites us in terms of finally getting that price of EVs down. So the other thing I would highlight that makes us very excited is his tunneling technology, we would watch that. And so we pay attention to Los Angeles and Las Vegas and Austin, Texas and San Antonio and Fort Lauderdale, Miami. These city, city pairs in states where we think Elon Musk can yield influence and we think this could be really the next big thing in infrastructure, not in a 2 to 3 year period, but certainly in a 5 to 10 year period with investment being attracted and relevant right now.

Ed Stanley: Well, that's a fantastic synopsis. Plenty to whet the appetite on moonshots of the next 5 to 10 years. Adam, thanks very much for taking the time to talk.

Adam Jonas: Great speaking with you, Ed.

Ed Stanley: And thanks for listening. If you enjoyed Thoughts on the Market, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts and share the podcast with a friend or a colleague today.

With high returns in mind, investors may be looking to get in on the ground floor with the next ambitious and disruptive technology, but how are these ‘moonshots’ identified and which ones could make a near-term impact? Head of Thematic Research in Europe Ed Stanley and Head of the Global Autos and Shared Mobility Team Adam Jonas discuss.

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