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Foretelling the year in medtech finance.

To celebrate its 80th birthday in September 1931, The New York Times asked Henry Ford and seven other American trailblazers to envision life eight decades into the future.

Some of the prophecies were quite amusing. Ford speculated that Americans would focus more on the intangibles of life than material goods (wishful thinking, perhaps), while physicist and Nobel laureate Arthur Compton predicted the blurring of national boundaries, opining, "With better communication, national boundaries will gradually cease to have their present importance. Because of racial differences, a world union cannot be expected within eighty years. The best adjustment that we can hope for to this certain change would seem to be the voluntary union of neighboring nations under a centralized government of continental size."

Certainly, globalization has made the world a more cozy place in which to live, but the planet is still far from evolving into an orb of peaceful mega-nations under common rule.

Sociologist William Ogbum also weighed in, forecasting a more nervous and mentally unstable U.S. populous of 160 million kept in line by "mental hygienists with the upper hand."

Interesting, to say the least.

Dr. Willis R. Whitney, considered the dean of American directors of industrial research, foresaw a future free of moths, mice, and burglars (utopia, at last!), whereas physicist/chemist Michael Pupin was equally as idealistic with his corporate profit-sharing forecast: "This civilization is the greatest material achievement of applied science ... Its power for creating wealth was never equaled in human history. But it lacks the wisdom of distributing equitably the wealth which it creates. One can safely prophesy that during the next eighty years, this civilization will correct this deficiency by creating an industrial democracy which will guarantee to the worker an equitable share ... produced by his work."

A modern-day industrial democracy is about as realistic as self-lacing shoes, flying cars, and holographic movies (all courtesy of 1989's "Back to the Future II" augurs). More often than not, prognostications turn out to be wrong, yet homo sapiens refuses to abandon the practice for fear of the unknown.

Indeed, uncertainty can be a frightening sensibility. Knowledge--even when incomplete--begets feelings of power, security, and control, all of which are reassuring to the human psyche. Without it, we are prone to fear and insecurity.

Thus explains all the soothsaying and forward-thinking that accompanies the start of any new year. Futurism, in effect, has become the new holiday custom of late, replacing that time-honored (yet somewhat hokey) tradition of resolution-making.

There is no shortage of crystal ball gazers either. Professionals from all walks of life have entertained the masses with their bizarre peeks into future worlds. Medtech gurus have had a decent track record, save for a few major missteps along the way. (Sir John Eric Ericson's 1873 notion of the chest, abdomen, and brain being off-limits to surgeons is a prime example.)

Mike Darwin and Steven B. Harris, M.D., contrarily, weren't too far off with their 1988 vision of laparoscopic and less-invasive surgery within 20 years. They also portended "fine-tuned repair of heart valves and blood vessels" as well as good synthetic bone and skin, and gene therapy.

Financial forecasting has been a bit trickier, particularly in the medical technology sector where insurance coverage, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, pricing pressures, economics, and healthcare reform can easily impact a company's bottom line. Last year was a transformational one for the industry with scale-driven mergers and acquisitions that helped major players like Medtronic pic, Zimmer, Becton Dickinson and Company, Cyberonics Inc., Danaher, and Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (among others) gain vertical integration and greater supply chain synergies. The deals also raised the stakes for surviving a changed healthcare landscape, where future success likely will be achieved from tactical growth that delivers greater access, improved outcomes, and lower costs.

With industry alignment leaving fewer dominant players, the pressure to differentiate in the market surely will mount in 2016. Of course, it's nearly impossible at this point to anticipate the impact of this differentiation on medtech finance over the next 12 months. The path to demarcation might be blazed through further consolidation or initial public offerings. Then again, it might be spearheaded by renewed venture capital funding (the odds are against this particular prediction, however).

The odds are also against this year's class of financial fortune-tellers. In spite of their best efforts, most will be off target with their device industry forecasts but they're nevertheless undaunted in their desire/need to read the industry's proverbial tea leaves. Nevertheless, their ensuing predictions--compiled from blogs, reports, and live interviews--make for some rather interesting reading.

Michael Barbella * Managing Editor
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Title Annotation:Financial News
Author:Barbella, Michael
Publication:Orthopedic Design & Technology
Date:Jan 1, 2016
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