(B) There are a few long-timers on Wall Street that I will stop whatever I am doing to listen to them on Bloomberg or CNBC. One of them is Byron Wien from the Blackstone Group (other ones are Art Cashin from UBS Financial Services a contributor to CNBC, and Barton Biggs was unfortunately left us in 2012). This is the 33rd year, Mr. Wien has given his views on a number of economic, financial market, and political surprises for the coming year. Mr. Wien defines a “surprise” as an event which the average investor would only assign a one out of three chance of taking place but which Mr. Wien believes is “probable”, having a better than 50% likelihood of happening.
And never forget that predictions must always be taken as predictions!
Byron’s Ten Surprises for 2019 are as follows:
- The weakening world economy encourages the Federal Reserve to stop raising the federal funds rate during the year. Inflation remains subdued and the 10-year Treasury yield stays below 3.5%. The yield curve remains positive.
- Partly because of no further rate increases by the Federal Reserve and more attractive valuations as a result of the market decline at the end of 2018, the S&P 500 gains 15% for the year. Rallies and corrections occur but improved earnings enable equities to move higher in a reasonably benign interest rate environment.
- Traditional drivers of GDP growth, capital spending, and housing make only modest gains in 2019. The expansion continues, however, because of consumer and government spending. A recession before 2021 seems unlikely.
- The better tone in the financial markets discourages precious metal investors. Gold drops to $1,000 as the equity markets in the United States and elsewhere improve.
- The profit outlook for emerging markets brightens and investor interest intensifies because the price-earnings ratio is attractive compared to developed markets and historical levels. The continuous expansion of the middle class in the emerging markets provides the consumer buying thrust for earnings growth. China leads and the Shanghai composite rises 25%. The Brazil equity market also comes to life under the country’s new conservative leadership.
- March 29 comes and goes and there is no Brexit deal. Parliament fails to approve one and Theresa May, arguing that a change in leadership won’t help the situation, remains in office. A second referendum is held and the U.K. votes to remain.
- The dollar stabilizes at year-end 2018 levels and stays there throughout the year. Because of concern about the economy, the Federal Reserve stops shrinking its balance sheet, which is interpreted negatively by currency traders. The flow of foreign capital into United States assets slows because of a softer monetary policy and a lack of need for new capital for business expansion.
- The Mueller investigation results in indictments against members of the Trump Organization closest to the president but the evidence doesn’t support any direct action against Trump himself. Nevertheless, an exodus of Trump’s most trusted advisors results in a crisis in confidence that the administration has the people and the process to accomplish important goals.
- Congress, however, with a Democratic majority, gets more done than expected, particularly on trade policy. Progress is made in preserving important parts of the Affordable Care Act and immigration policy. A federal infrastructure program to be implemented in 2020 is announced.
- Growth stocks continue to provide leadership in the U.S. equity market. Technology and biotech do well as a result of continued strong earnings. Value stocks other than energy-related businesses disappoint because of the slowing economy.
Note: The picture above is my private collection of fine and exquisite Champagne.
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