In this new digital-first economy, it is clear that the most tech-savvy, agile and cash-rich companies can thrive. Covid-19 has accelerated existing trends, bringing new momentum to digitisation and a “super-star effect” with the continuing rise of US and Chinese big tech. 

Global tech stocks have outperformed the market in 2020 and this month Apple became the first US publicly traded company to exceed $1.5trn. The Financial Times’ Top 100 companies prospering in the pandemic ranks companies by market cap added year to date, noting recent successes and longer term opportunities for businesses that enable us to live and work online. Cloud computing, ecommerce and gaming feature prominently in the top 100. Many of the top 100 have proven themselves resilient and adaptable as they have diversified their products and services, pivoting to take account of changing customer behaviours during and post lockdown. Similar themes emerge when you look at the success of tech unicorns, most notably Bytedance, parent of TikTok, which has become the world’s most valuable unicorn. A number of Chinese tech companies are following the steps of Alibaba’s hugely successful secondary listing on the HK Stock Exchange as they broaden their investor base in the face of an increasingly multipolar world.

Significant investments are being made in digital infrastructure which will be critical to enabling the digital economy and sustaining the acceleration in digitisation. Alibaba is investing $28.26 billion in its cloud computing division over the next three years and Tencent proposes to invest US$70 billion into digital infrastructure over the next five years. In South East Asia, we have seen a surge of interest from investors looking at opportunities in digital infrastructure: data centres, towers and fibre.  The trend pre-dates the pandemic and has accelerated in light of the pandemic and the intensifying US-China rivalry. Interest is from a range of investors including real estate and infrastructure funds, and hyperscale tech companies. They seek to leverage the continuing growth of North Asia together with the emerging digitisation of the South East Asian economies Singapore, Vietnam and South Korea, an attractive prospect in the current challenging climate.