Every January I like to make some predictions for the year ahead.
The following December I like to follow up.
We get out the red pen, look back at what was said, and award a score.
And that’s what we are about today: marking my predictions for 2016…
Pardon me while I munch on this grass snake
Some predictions I get right, others I get wildly wrong. Some years I’m so proud of my score, I can’t understand why the IMF or the Bank of England don’t hire me for some Carney-esque sum. Other years, I have to add a plate of humble pie to my meal.
This year sees a mixture of both.
Before you flame me for my wild misses, dear reader, I tentatively observe, while munching on the tarte d’humilité (actually, the French say “avaler une couleuvre” – swallow a grass snake), that events look a damned sight more obvious in the rear view mirror than they do before they happen. At least we acknowledge the cock-ups, unlike other economic forecasters I could mention.
A quick reminder of the scoring system: I get two points for a hit, one for a near hit, zero for a miss, and minus one for an “epic fail”.
My broad brush strokes for the year were as follows – and this is before we get marking.
One, markets would lack clear direction in the first part of the year, which they did.
Two – and this was a bit of an obvious one, looking back – I thought a big (continuing) theme for the year would be this one of economic disruption caused by new tech. Driverless cars, for example, are coming “sooner than you think” – and that seems to be so.
Otto, a driverless company now owned by Uber, hauled 50,000 cans of beer 120 miles from Loveland, Colorado to Colorado Springs. Uber, Tesla and Google cars are now testing on the streets of the US; Apple, we discover, is making in-roads into the sector; and here in the UK, Lutz Pods can occasionally be sighted about Milton Keynes. In Singapore, self-driving taxis have made their debut.
Three – and I quote myself in full – “perhaps the most important current flowing through 2016, will be rising public dissatisfaction with politicians. The same dissatisfaction that has given rise to anti-establishment figures such as Nigel Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and Beppe Grillo, will grow stronger, just as two huge votes – the EU referendum and the US election – are coming up.
“Continued migration crises in Europe as well as terrorist attacks will only add to the discontent. We could be entering a period of significant political upheaval. Perhaps the outlier here, the next ‘black swan’, is some kind of crisis in sovereign debt. Government bonds are the next ‘big short’.”
It’s a shame we’re not at the marking phase yet, otherwise I’d give myself bonus points. On top of the political upheaval we all know about, it looks as though 2016 was the year that government bonds peaked after maybe 35 years of bull market.
Right, onto specifics.
1. Gold: 1 point
The prediction was that we would “see gold in the $1,200s, and in the $900s” per ounce. As it was, $1,060 was the low on 1 January. It didn’t make it into the $900s. But it did spend the large part of the year in the $1,200s. In fact, the average price was $1,250. One point. Just.
2. Gold miners: 2 points
“Gold miners will outperform gold, something we haven’t seen since 2010” was the call and the call was right. That said, they’ve been underperforming since August, although they’re still up on the year. Two points.
3. Oil: 1 point
$50 a barrel would be the high, we might flirt with $20, but most of the year will be spent in the $30s – that was the call. What happened? $53 was the high, $26 was the low, but most of the year was spent meandering in the $40s. One point.
4. The FTSE 100: 1 point
The call: 5,300-5,500 would mark the low, 6,500-6,800 the high. The happening: 5,500 was the low, but the high came in at 7,100. Nearly, but not quite. One point.
5. The S&P 500: 0 points
2,100 marks the top, 1,700 the low was the call – and it was too bearish. 1,800 was the low, but the Trump rally has taken us to a high of 2,270. Zero points.
6. Interest rates: 2 points
Remember at the beginning of 2016, the official forecast was for the Federal Reserve to raise US interest rates three times. I disagreed, saying that we might “see another 0.25% rise in the US, or even 0.5%,” but none in Blighty. As it was, we got 0.25% in the US, and a rate cut in the UK. I claim my two points.
7. Sterling: Minus 1 point
I predicted a high of $1.54 and a low “if people get really excited about Brexit” of “$1.42 and lower”. The high was $1.51 – close, but no cigar – but I was so far off with the low ($1.18) that I am awarding myself an ‘epic fail’ of minus one point.
8. Bitcoin: 1 point
It would be one of “the surprise performers of the year”. It is “real and it’s here to stay”. $350 per coin would mark the low, the high would be over $500. In fact, $399 was the low and the high was $790. The direction was right, but the specifics were not. Just the one point.
9. House prices: 2 points
The call was for UK house prices to rise nationwide by around 5%, but London is “a mixed bag. There is continued atrophy at the top end. The new build implosion ratchets up a couple of gears. Family homes and zone two outwards outperform prime central by some margin.” The Halifax has house prices up by 5.2%, Nationwide at 4.4%. London is as described. Two points.
10. The US dollar vs the euro: 1 point
I suggested a euro high against the dollar of €1.17-€1.20, while at the other end of the scale the dollar and the euro would hit parity. The high came in at €1.15 – two cents off – and we got to €1.03 last week. If we get to parity this week – and there’s a real possibility of that – I’m going to go back and retrospectively award myself two points. For now, I’ll have to settle for the one.
11. The EU referendum: 1 point
There were two halves to this prediction. First that the intensity “dwarfs any general election in recent memory, even Tony Blair in 1997”. I got that bit right. Second “something weird happens. Either David Cameron puts off the vote till 2017. Or we vote to leave, but the exit gets fudged and somehow we don’t leave”. Worried anyone?
I’ll give myself one point though, as, to be honest, I thought Remain would win.
12. US presidency: 1 point
My tentative view was that Hillary Clinton would win the White House, but saying, “the problem I have with the Hillary call is that she is so establishment. And establishment is what so many people are so sick of. Growing political discontent is without doubt going to be one of, if not the major current flowing through 2016.” Right about the sentiment, wrong about the call. Can I allow myself one point? Hmm. Go on then. It’s Christmas.
Finally, my bonus prediction was that Manchester City would win the league (wrong) while Aston Villa, Newcastle and Swansea would go down – so I got two of those three right.
Ignoring the sport, the maximum score is 24, the minimum is minus 12. I make my score 12 – and that’s being kind to myself.
Over the course of a year it’s interesting to see just how much both sentiment and narratives change. I find it such a worthwhile exercise to go back and re-visit where I was – if only to remind myself of just how much can happen and how quickly.
I’ll be back in the New Year with an exact outline of 2017’s events, handily presented in 12 digestible bullet points. (And if you haven’t already subscribed to MoneyWeek magazine, you can get a much more detailed rundown on what we’re expecting for 2017, if you subscribe now.)
Happy Christmas, folks. May 2017 be a belter.
PS If you subscribe to MoneyWeek now, it also means that you won’t risk missing our first issue of the New Year, in which we reveal the top tips from our Roundtable experts for the year ahead. So treat yourself – it is Christmas after all!