From AI to diet pills — these are the 50 people influencing the market in 2023

What do Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, Shawn Fain and Lina Khan have in common? On the surface, it might not seem like much — one is an impetuous tech-bro genius, another is a buy-and-hold nonagenarian investor, and the other two are a tough union boss and a business-busting regulator. 

But each of them are having a serious impact on your money. They all appear on this year’s MarketWatch 50 list of the most influential people in markets. The MarketWatch 50 is our tally of the investors, CEOs, policymakers, AI players and financial influencers who are making a difference from Wall Street to Washington, in Silicon Valley and on Reddit.

Interest rates and bond yields have skyrocketed in 2023 – the average rate on a 30-year mortgage reached 8%. The U.S. stock market has hung in there, returning 10% as measured by the Standard & Poor’s 500 index
SPX.
On the other hand, bonds have plunged.  

This year’s MarketWatch 50 reflects the fact that the U.S. stock market’s gains in 2023 have largely been driven by a few big tech stocks, often referred to as the magnificent seven. There are nine corporate chiefs on the MarketWatch 50 related to these seven tech behemoths, like Apple
AAPL,
+0.28%

CEO Tim Cook, Amazon
AMZN,
+0.29%

chief Andy Jassy and Meta
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-0.46%

Platforms’s Mark Zuckerberg

The MarketWatch 50 is made up of people whose actions, work and opinions are felt in financial markets. These are the people who influence the behavior and strategies of market participants. The members of the MarketWatch 50 run large businesses, regulate companies and markets, trade, invest and set public policy. 

To come up with the list, we asked our readers to tell us who they thought influenced markets the most this year. Our newsroom reviewed each nomination and circulated the names of the strongest candidates among our staff for consideration. MarketWatch reporters also scoured their beats and interviewed their sources while following up on promising submissions and coming up with their own. In the end, MarketWatch’s group editors and editor in chief crafted our final list.

TO SEE THE FULL MARKETWATCH 50 LIST CLICK HERE


MarketWatch

In 2023, stock-market bulls have been most excited about advances in artificial intelligence and this enthusiasm has helped push stocks higher. There are eight AI players on this year’s MarketWatch 50, starting with Jensen Huang

Execs revolutionizing AI and weight-loss drugs

The chief of chip-maker Nvidia
NVDA,
-0.93%

has long been a legend in Silicon Valley, but in 2023 Huang became a star on Wall Street. His reputation has swelled to new heights, as the boom in generative artificial intelligence requires Nvidia chips, sending the company’s valuation to the lofty trillion-dollar level previously reserved for names like Apple, Microsoft and Google.

Huang and Nvidia are in many ways fueling the AI enthusiasm that has dominated markets in 2023. His status as a veteran founder and CEO, with deep respect in Silicon Valley, make Huang a singular force that could determine the course of the technology sector for years to come.   

Other AI players on the MarketWatch 50 include OpenAI’s Sam Altman and Microsoft
MSFT,
+0.24%

Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood.

The emergence of Open AI’s ChatGPT pushed Google-parent Alphabet
GOOGL,
-0.31%

to combine its two AI-focused entities. DeepMind, which had operated independently since the company acquired it in 2014, merged with Google Brain, a unit that worked within Google on AI development. Now, Demis Hassabis, who founded DeepMind with an eye toward artificial general intelligence, is in control of the combined entity, the signature AI effort at Alphabet. He’s charged with expanding the scope of the new unit beyond the goals of DeepMind to ensure the success of Brain’s focus on machine-learning tasks, including generative AI. As a result, Hassabis lands on the MarketWatch 50.

One of the biggest trends to hit markets in 2023 was the weight-loss drug craze. Lotte Bjerre Knudsen is the innovation scientist who made the key discoveries in GLP-1 at Novo Nordisk that led to Ozempic, the diabetes medicine, and Wegovy, the weight-loss version of the drug. They have become the hottest-selling drugs in America, making Novo Nordisk
NOVO.B,
-0.10%

a $300-billion company and the most valuable publicly traded company in Europe.

In addition to revolutionizing Novo Nordisk’s financials, there are broad market implications to what Knudsen has helped unleash. In October 2023, kidney-dialysis stocks like DaVita
DVA,
+0.77%

tumbled after a study showed Ozempic could delay kidney-disease progression. Wall Street has also started to consider the financial impact Ozempic might have on airlines, like United Airlines Holdings
UAL,
+0.60%
,
which could have lower fuel costs in the future, and snack food makers, like Mondelez International
MDLZ,
+0.35%
,
which could see lower demand for their products. So far, PepsiCo
PEP,
+0.62%

has said Ozempic and Wegovy are having a negligible impact on its snacks and beverage business. Health insurance providers, both private and public, that will need to cover the medicine may be impacted the most. 

The short seller companies fear most

Nathan Anderson has firmly established himself as the activist short seller who companies fear most. Anderson runs a tiny firm, but has proven himself to be a shrewd stock analyst and effective promoter of his investment bets against the shares of companies. 

In 2023, Anderson went after his biggest targets yet. He took on India’s Adani Group and its billionaire founder, Gautam Adani, who was the world’s third-richest person when Anderson launched his campaign. Anderson’s detailed allegations of stock manipulation and accounting fraud wiped $100 billion at one point off Adani Group’s market valuation. Adani and his conglomerate denied the accusations and fought back.

Anderson also targeted Carl Icahn, saying the legendary investor’s publicly traded company, Icahn Enterprises
IEP,
-1.73%
,
was overleveraged in the face of years of trading losses, causing the stock to plunge. For good measure, Anderson also alleged in a report this year that Block, the fintech company started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, was improperly inflating metrics. Block
SQ,
+2.63%
,
whose shares fell after the report’s release, has described it as “factually inaccurate.” Anderson is backed by investors and makes money when his work makes a stock fall. 

As for Musk, Buffett, Fain and Khan, they are all market movers in their own way. 

Musk has continued to court fascination and controversy, and the billionaire’s already outsized influence over business and political spheres keeps growing. In 2023, he rebranded Twitter as X, a name harking back to his start as an entrepreneur, and was reported in a biography to have refused to let a Ukrainian attack on Russian warships use his Starlink’s services.

Tesla has been the big bright spot for Musk, with the EV maker starting production of the Cybertruck, its electric pickup truck, after years of delays. Tesla
TSLA,
+1.76%

shares doubled in the first nine months of 2023, and its market capitalization was recently hovering around $700 billion, towering over market values of legacy and startup U.S. carmakers. 

At age 93, Buffett remains a closely watched market force. In recent months, he’s made big bets in Japan, adding to his Berkshire Hathaway’s
BRK.B,
+1.16%

$20 billion of holdings in five Japanese trading companies. Buffett’s visit to Japan in the spring of 2023 and his bullish comments while he was there, signified the roaring return of the Japanese stock market. At the same time, Buffett’s outsized $160 billion stake in Apple has been emblematic of the market strength of U.S. tech behemoths. 

Fain was elected to lead the United Auto Workers in March 2023, narrowly beating an incumbent and setting the union on a collision course with the three Detroit automakers. In September, Fain initiated the UAW strike at GM
GM,
+3.07%
,
Ford
F,
+1.35%

and Jeep-maker Stellantis
STLA,
+3.78%
,
with a series of work stoppages and walkouts involving 146,000 hourly workers. It was the union’s first simultaneous strike against all three companies and marked a new period of labor activism in the U.S. that has included big union wins at companies like UPS
UPS,
+1.78%

and United Airlines
UAL,
+0.60%
.
 In October, the UAW struck tentative deals the three Detroit automakers, but the strike could benefit Tesla if those deals undermine the Detroit automakers’ effort to compete in the electric vehicles market.

Khan, chair of the Federal Trade Commission, has been making her case against monopoly power, especially when it comes to big technology companies. So far she has been losing, failing to stop Microsoft’s takeover of Activision Blizzard and Facebook parent Meta Platform’s
META,
-0.46%

acquisition of Within Unlimited. But Khan is just getting started. Her FTC, along with 17 states, sued Amazon alleging the company used its market position to quash competition and overcharge sellers. Khan has recently warned private equity firms about their roll-up acquisition strategies.

Khan is also keen to regulate artificial intelligence and confidently wrote in an op-ed in May that “the FTC is well equipped with legal jurisdiction to handle the issues brought to the fore by the rapidly developing AI sector.”

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