Wien’s 10 Surprises for 2018

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My career started out at Morgan Stanley in the 1990s in New York and London. It was a great place for learning about anticipation of the future. However, what I found in the investment banks was that few analysts used their imagination or endeavoured to anticipate non-linear events. So analysts were often caught out as they would primarily extrapolate existing trends. But once a year many started to try and look around the corner and guess some surprising events and trends. it is often thought that Byron Wien, as US Chief Strategist, kicked off the practice in 1986 and the whole Morgan Stanley economic and strategy team took it very seriously. As a new graduate in the 1990s I jut loved to hear the likes of Byron Wien, Barton Biggs and Stephen Roach cite financial and political events from previous eras. It was amazing to hear when one of them said “I remember back in 1956 when the Dow Jones…” At the time the scope of their knowledge of financial history was break taking for me, and really inspired me to make a career out of  learning from history and predicting paradigm shifts

Byron Wien is now at Blackstone. I am republishing his list of surprises for 2018. (I have not made my own but I will be publishing my 10 questions for 2018). I don’t necessarily agree with many of these surprises but I thought it worth thinking about some of these issues.

Byron’s Ten Surprises for 2018 are as follows:

1).China finally decides that a nuclear capability in the hands of an unpredictable leader on its border is not tolerable even though North Korea is a communist buffer between itself and democratic South Korea. China cuts off all fuel and food shipments to North Korea, which agrees to suspend its nuclear development program but not give up its current weapons arsenal.

2).Populism, tribalism and anarchy spread around the world. In the United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next Prime Minister. In spite of repressive action by the Spanish government, Catalonia remains turbulent. Despite the adverse economic consequences of the Brexit vote, the unintended positive consequence is that it brings continental Europe closer together with more economic cooperation and faster growth.

3).The dollar finally comes to life. Real growth exceeds 3% in the United States, which, coupled with the implementation of some components of the Trump pro-business agenda, renews investor interest in owning dollar-denominated assets, and the euro drops to 1.10 and the yen to 120 against the dollar.  Repatriation of foreign profits held abroad by U.S. companies helps.

4).The U.S. economy has a better year than 2017, but speculation reaches an extreme and ultimately the S&P 500 has a 10% correction. The index drops toward 2300, partly because of higher interest rates, but ends the year above 3000 since earnings continue to expand and economic growth heads toward 4%.

5).The price of West Texas Intermediate Crude moves above $80. The price rises because of continued world growth and unexpected demand from developing markets, together with disappointing hydraulic fracking production, diminished inventories, OPEC discipline and only modest production increases from Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq and Iran.

6).Inflation becomes an issue of concern. Continued world GDP growth puts pressure on commodity prices. Tight labor markets in the industrialized countries create wage increases. In the United States, average hourly earnings gains approach 4% and the Consumer Price Index pushes above 3%.

7).With higher inflation, interest rates begin to rise. The Federal Reserve increases short-term rates four times in 2018 and the 10-year U.S. Treasury yield moves toward 4%, but the Fed shrinks its balance sheet only modestly because of the potential impact on the financial markets. High yield spreads widen, causing concern in the equity market.

8)Both NAFTA and the Iran agreement endure in spite of Trump railing against them. Too many American jobs would be lost if NAFTA ended, and our allies universally support continuing the Iran agreement. Trump begins to think that not signing on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership was a mistake as he sees the rise of China’s influence around the world.  He presses for more bilateral trade deals in Asia.

9).The Republicans lose control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the November election. Voters feel disappointed that many promises made during Trump’s presidential campaign were not implemented in legislation and there is a growing negative reaction to his endless Tweets. The mid-term election turns out to be a referendum on the Trump Presidency.

10).Xi Jinping, having broadened his authority at the 19th Party Congress in October, focuses on China’s credit problems and decides to limit business borrowing even if it means slowing the economy down and creating fewer jobs. Real GDP growth drops to 5.5%, with only minor implications for world growth. Xi proclaims this move will ensure the sustainability of China’s growth over the long term.

Also-rans:

Every year there are always a few Surprises that do not make the Ten because either I do not think they are as relevant as those on the basic list or I am not comfortable with the idea that they are “probable.”

11).Investors recognize that the earnings of companies in Europe, the Far East and the emerging markets are growing faster than those in the United States while the price earnings ratios in those regions are lower than those in America. Global investments become more broadly represented in institutional portfolios.

12).The Mueller investigation of the 2016 presidential election fails to implicate any members of the Trump family in collusion with Russian operatives.

13).Artificial intelligence gains visible momentum. Service sector jobs are automated, particularly clerks in legal and finance professions, as well as workers in fast food outlets and healthcare. Economists begin to question the unemployment data because the rate drops below 4% while so many people still appear to be out of work and seeking government assistance.

14).Cyberattacks become more prevalent and begin to affect consumer confidence. A major money center bank suspends deposits or withdrawals for three days because its system is penetrated. Numerous retail organizations report that customer personal information has been obtained by hackers. Those invading corporate information systems appear to be smarter and more innovative than the internal employees protecting the computer data, suggesting that the systems themselves need to be upgraded.

15). The regulatory authorities in Europe and the United States finally get concerned about the creative destruction of Internet-related businesses.  As a result of pressure from retailers and traditional media companies, they begin an investigation of anti-competitive practices at Amazon, Facebook and Google.  The public begins to think these companies have too much power.

16).The risks in Bitcoin are so great that regulatory authorities restrict trading.  Among their concerns are: no regulatory oversight; no safety and soundness measures; no recourse in the event of mistaken or miscalculated transactions; high cyber risk; no deposit insurance. (Risk source: Morgan Stanley.)

https://www.blackstone.com/media/press-releases/byron-wien-announces-ten-surprises-for-2018

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