A bubble you didn't even know existed could be bursting

  • "The bubble you didn't know about could be bursting without you knowing," according to Nomura.

  • It's not the whole of the tech sector, but data and platform companies that provide free services in exchange for user data that's sold to advertisers.

  • Such companies have been under fire this week following news that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook users' personal information, without permission, to target them with political ads.

Social media companies are under fire as regulators and users across the Atlantic raise new questions over their troves of personal data.

Reports over the weekend revealed that data from over 50 million Facebook users was used to target voters in the 2016 US election with political advertisements.

This kind of scrutiny is part of a broader trend pushing the needle closer to bursting the "data/platform bubble," according to Bilal Hafeez, Nomura's global head of G10 FX strategy.

"The bottom line is that trade wars, populism, income inequality can be looked at in isolation, but together they all point to a reaction against the growth of fluid intangible-intensive industries such as the data/platform companies," Hafeez said.

"This means that these markets will come under increasing pressure on how they value data/platforms as the year unfolds."

The core reason Hafeez thinks the data/platform bubble is set to burst is a political sea change against the sector.

Dating back to the campaign trail, President Donald Trump focused on improving goods-producing sectors like manufacturing. Meanwhile, the services sector continues to create the lion share of US jobs and is a bigger contributor to the economy.

Trump's approach also represented a departure from former President Barack Obama, who embraced Silicon Valley and was the first to create executive positions for a chief technology officer and chief data scientist.

It also doesn't help that data companies have helped to widen income inequality by creating "winner-takes-all" dynamics, Hafeez said.

Secondly, Hafeez highlights "the cab driver," representing people who aren't specialists but have become some of the biggest advocates of some technologies.

"A classic sign of the late stages of a boom is when non-specialists start to become the most vocal advocates for the boom," he wrote. Bitcoin's explosion and subsequent rollover — which hurt many platforms created to profit from it — is probably the best recent example of a bandwagon non-specialists jumped on.

Thirdly, Hafeez said fake news could also be the end of the platform bubble, according to Hafeez.

"Today thanks to the increasing concerns that platforms and data-holders have been 'gamed' by corporations and foreign governments to manipulate consumers and voters, there is a growing backlash from individuals and governments on how these platforms can operate," he wrote. "For individuals, this could be resulting in a shift from 'crowd-sourced' information to 'reputation-based' information and opinion."

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And the end result for governments could be even more regulation.

That's the final trigger, as companies move away from adhering to global standards to new, regional rules.

"The EU is increasingly flexing its muscles on the rights of the consumer in relation to data/platform owners," Hafeez said.

"That leaves the pioneering US companies with the most to lose as they have to retrench from these markets."

And if you're looking for a trade recommendation that could profit from this, Hafeez, an FX strategist, advises that the Japanese yen "typically performs well in a volatile world."

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