Archive for December, 2018

Top 10 Predictions for 2019

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Time again to take out my crystal ball (or magic eight-ball) and have some fun predicting what will happen next year. These predictions are in no particular order (and please remember that these are predictions of what I think will happen, not necessarily what I want to happen); click here to see how I did with my 2018 Top 10 Predictions.

I am honestly having a hard time finding a lot to be optimistic about, as I think 2019 will be very volatile and uncertain – politically, both here and abroad, economically and for the markets. There are not many people looking for compromise or bipartisanship, and I only see it getting worse. I hope that I am wrong!

10 – The Mueller investigation will conclude by the end of the first quarter. At least one Trump (not the President) will be indicted, and the real possibility of a constitutional crisis will emerge if the President pardons him (them). President Trump will not be indicted for collusion with Russia, but there will enough in the report (perhaps obstruction of justice or campaign finance violations or questionable actions concerning his businesses) to set the Democrats off and running toward impeachment even though he will not be indicted while in office. The Democrats have to be careful to act rationally and to continue to try to get legislation passed at the same time, or they will hurt themselves leading into 2020. Donald Trump will still be President at year-end.

9 – The only hope of getting any meaningful legislation done next year will occur early in the year before the Mueller investigation results become public. The most likely accomplishment would be an infrastructure bill, which would receive wide bipartisan support during the honeymoon period of Pelosi working with the Senate and the President. Once the report is completed/released, however, I think the rest of the year will be filled with partisan fighting, subpoenas, hearings, etc. I put the odds of even infrastructure legislation passing at less than 30%; the Democratic leadership distrusts the President and as more bad news links out about the Mueller probe the political pressure on them not to cooperate with the White House will increase.

8 – At least 15 Democrats, including Joe Biden, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, will announce their candidacies for President. There will be a few surprises as well, perhaps a few lesser known Governors, as well as Beto O’Rourke. Michael Bloomberg will decide not to run, and either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren will run as well, but not both. My money is on Sanders for now, as Warren has become too controversial and I think people are already kind of over her. And at least two Republicans will challenge Trump by year-end, although I think Jeff Flake will not be one of them.

7 – In what will make an already tumultuous political environment even worse, there will be an opening at the U.S. Supreme Court during the year. I am not going to speculate on how this opening will occur, but the hearings and ultimate confirmation (since the Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate) will make the Kavanaugh hearings look like a walk in the park.

6 – Having just delayed the Brexit vote in the House of Commons, the May government will fall and there will be new elections. The Tory’s will keep power – barely – with a new Prime Minister, and a second referendum on leaving the EU will be called. (This is being published one day after the vote was postponed, so some of these events might become happen before the end of 2018.) This time, voters will decide to stay in the EU, and despite having egg on its face, this is actually the best outcome for the country. (I don’t honestly think the majority ever wanted to leave; this whole fiasco is the result of what can happen when you have an off-cycle issue-related election where turnout is low.) The Court ruling last week that the U.K. could stay without the approval of the other EU members paves the way for this outcome.

5 – Political upheaval in Europe will continue. Even though an ally has taken over as head of her party, Merkel’s influence and hold on power will continue to weaken throughout the year, and there will be elections held before year-end. While Macron has finally spoken and is trying to appease the demonstrators, I think the riots will continue into 2019. He will survive the year as President – barely – but his influence will be greatly diminished; he has become in effect a lame duck already. Italy will avoid a financial crisis, although its bond and stock markets will be more jittery than elsewhere on the Continent. In the Middle East, Netanyahu will lose a no-confidence vote in parliament over his financial dealings, and there will be new elections (which he will lose). There will be no Mideast progress toward peace as the Trump Administration will be occupied elsewhere, and at least one other country will leave OPEC. Relations with Saudi Arabia will continue to deteriorate as the Senate presses on the Khashoggi murder, but no arms deals will be canceled. As to China, the back and forth of a trade war, no trade war, will continue. Every time we will seem to take a step forward, we will take a step backward as was the case in 2018. Any deals will be short-lived.

4 – For financial services, it will be a tumultuous year, with Democrats taking over the House of Representatives. While there will be a lot of Committee meetings and talk about increasing regulations and making life tougher on the banks, no overreaching legislation will pass (since it would not make it through the Senate). But because of the chatter, there will be a lot of nervousness in the industry, and I expect fewer mergers and more firms taking a wait and see attitude. Bitcoin will continue to struggle and will eke out a small gain for the year. But many efforts to increase the number of Bitcoin investment vehicles, such as ETFs, will not move forward.

3 – The Fed will make good on its promise to slow the rate of interest rate increases, and I see two increases at the most during 2019, perhaps only one. The economy will begin to slow by mid-year, as corporate profits, while still impressive, will continue to decline from the record rates seen during the second half of 2018. Businesses will cut back on spending as the uneven economic policies of the Trump Administration continue. Real estate markets will continue to slow as well, as a slowing economy and continuing political uncertainty take their toll on people’s willingness to spend. But the economy will not turn negative in 2019 and there will be no recession.

2 – The market will continue the volatility seen in the fourth quarter of 2018. The market hates uncertainty, and everything I have predicted here points to more uncertainty. The highs will be high – as when there is a positive announcement on trade for example, and the lows will low – as when one administration official contradicts another. The market will be down about 5% for the year, with technology stocks doing slightly better than the market as a whole. International developed markets ex the U.S. will be down about 10% on average next year and emerging markets will be down even more. The yield curve will be slightly inverted by the end of the year.

1 – And turning to sports, I hope I will do better than I did in 2018! Clemson will win the NCAA Football National Championship, finally beating Alabama. The Rams will beat the Chiefs in the Super Bowl after barely beating the Saints in the NFC Championship Game. Going with my heart here, Michigan will win the NCAA Basketball Championship (Duke would be my second choice), Tampa Bay will win the Stanley Cup, the Warriors will repeat again as NBA champions and the Red Sox will once again win the World Series.

How Did I Do? Review Of My Top 10 Predictions for 2018

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

I will unveil my Top 10 Predictions for 2019 soon, but for now, lets see how I did this year. Original text is following by my comments in bold.

10 – The Mueller investigation will continue throughout the year, and might not even finish before the year is over. Trump will not be indicted, however it is possible that one of his sons, or his son-in-law will be. If that indeed happens, Trump will issue a pardon(s), setting up a messy confrontation with Democrats. In other words, the turmoil surrounding the Trump Administration and the Russia investigation will continue unabated. As the year comes to a close, the Mueller investigation continues. Most of us thought it would end soon after the midterm elections, and it still might end any day as reports are that the final report is being written. And a Trump relative might still be indicted … so let’s say this is still up in the air and will certainly be on my 2019 predictions list.

9 – Despite making gains, the Democrats will fail to win the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, and Nancy Pelosi will be replaced as Minority Leader (this might actually not happen until early 2019 when the new Congress is seated, but its inevtibility will become apparent soon after the election). The Republicans will slightly increase their majority in the Senate. The map highly favors the Republicans (with more Democratic seats up), so even though the majority will increase, it will not seem like a victory because they will not win as many seats as they could have. Got this about half right but wish I had updated this mid-year because I saw the House going Democratic early in the year (easy to say now, right?). I also appear to be wrong about Pelosi because she seems to be holding on to her leadership position. The Republicans did gain in the Senate, but not by enough because 2020 is going to be very tough for them.

8 – The Republican party will continue to splinter, and the primary season will be very ugly with numerous in-party challenges. The Democrats will struglle internally as well, as the liberal wing (led by Warren and Sanders) will contiue to buck the rest of the party. This latter divide is another reason why the Democrats will be once again be the minority party in both Houses. No clear Democratic candidate for President will emerge, leaving both parties in dissaray at the end of the year. Political turmoil continues. Got this one mostly correct, as both parties are split and both are experiencing infighting. Who would have thought that the term “Democratic Socialist” would become so popular? There are reported to be up to 30+ Democrats who are going to run for President at this point, and there is no clear leader. And many say the Republican party as we know it is dead. So yes, I would say things are in turmoil.

7 – If tax reform doesn’t pass by the end of this year (which it probably will but just had not when this was posted), it will pass early next year, but no major infrastructure or other significant legislation will pass in 2018, as election year gridlock will begin earlier than usual. The Republicans will cite Democratic obstructionism as their election cry while the Democrats will highlight the lack of Republican legislative successes. Get ready for a fun Fall! Tax reform did pass early in the year, but I was right in that no other major legislation passed, including infrastructure. Pre-conditioning conditions and healthcare became one of the major campaign issues.

6 – Despite rampant speculation at the end of the upcoming Supreme Court term, Justice Stevens will not retire. Short of an unexpected death, Trump will be denied another Supreme Court nomination next year. Well, I sure missed this one, didn’t I? Stevens’ retirement and the subsequent fight over Kavanaugh was actually one of the biggest stories of the year. May have to revisit this one next year!

5 – On the international scene, there will be elections in the U.K as the May government will fall as negotiations over Brexit stall and get contentious (this prediction was written before the recent set back when Parliament bucked May and legistated that it must okay any final plan). Merkel will put together a coalition and remain as Chancellor in Germany. There will little to no progress on Middle East peace and Assad will remain in power in Syria. Tension with Russia will continue, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Russia get more involved in Venezuala, filling the void created by the current political vacuum. Kinda sort right, except about May, altough that may be coming soon, as the Parliament gets set to debate and vote on the Brexit deal which many people do not like. Merkel is still in power, but barely, and has already announced she will give up leadership of the Party. Little to no progress on anything in the Middle East once again. Broken record time.

4 – With ISIS lossing most of its land, there will continue to cause havok with lone wolf attacks across the globe; trucks/cars will continue to be the weapon of choice. While the odds of a second Arab Spring have increased with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it will not happen and the protests will dwindle over time. The odds are good that Trump will pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement when its recertifaction comes due, further alienating the U.S. from its allies (following the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and the declaration to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem). The U.S. did pull out of the Iran deal, and the U.S. does continue to become more isolated internationally. There was no Arab Spring and the positive here, although I didn’t see it, is that ISIS attacks have slowed down, although they still remain a threat.

3 – For financial services, the biggest threat to stability is the current Bitcoin mania. Nothing was able to derail the market in 2017 – not North Korea, terrorism or Trump’s tweets. I have little doubt that the Bitcoin bubble will burst, the real question is if it will cause any large scale sytematic reactions. At this point, I am going to say that it won’t and that as people realize the dangers of Bitcoin and perhaps calls for regulation increase, and become closer to reality, cool heads will prevail and realize that it is an isolated incident and not part of a larger problem with the financial system. Luckily I was right in that the Bitcoin bubble did not burst nor did it cause major problems for the financial system, but it is trading significantly lower than it was and continues on this downtrend.

2 – Despite the political gridlock, given the positive trajectory of corporate profits, the market will continue to do well. However, there will be a correction of at least 10% at some point during the year, and while the major indices will end the year in positive territory, it will be single rather than double digit gains. Emerging and European markets will rise about the same as the U.S. markets. Technology will lag the overall market while financials will lead. There will only be 2 interest rate hikes – not 3. Mixed here, as we are unfortunately now seeing a second correction for the year, and it is not certain yet whether stocks will eke out gains for the year. If stocks end on a positive note, it will be very small. Technology and Financialsstocks have both lagged and there likely be four interest rates hikes. And emerging markets and European markets have lagged.

1 – And turning to sports, the Olympics in South Korea will go off withoug a hitch, despite the worries over current tensions with North Korea. Clemson will win the NCAA football national championship, beating Oklahoma. The Patriots will beat the Vikings in the Super Bowl. (I know – I probably just jinxed them!) Duke will win the NCAA basketball championship, Tampa Bay will win the Stanley Cup, the Warriors will repeat as NBA champions and the NY Yankees will win the World Series. Right on the Olympics, wrong on Clemson (damn Alabama!), wrong on the Super Bowl – boo Eagles, wrong on the NCAA and Stanley Cups. Thank goodness for the Warriors, because I missed baseball as well. Hope you didn’t bet on my predictions!