“People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” That’s how Daryl F Zanuck, the Hollywood mogul behind Gone With The Wind, dismissed television and its potential impact on the cinema industry.
Blunders like that are enough to put anyone off trying to forecast what might happen over the next 12 months. Yet making predictions is a useful way to prepare yourself for unlikely but possible events that could really rattle markets if they actually happened.
People expect to see plenty of things in 2014. House prices will keep rising. The trade deficit will get wider. The French will introduce some crazy new taxes. That’s all being taken for granted. But here are six things that might catch us all by surprise.
1. Greece exits the euro
Pundits have been predicting that Greece will quit the euro for the last four years. But 2014 could be the year it finally happens. Why? Because Greece will be running a trade surplus and the government will be running a budget surplus, excluding debt interest. So a hurriedly introduced new drachma would be a perfectly viable currency, just as the national money of any nation that runs a trade and budget surplus is.
The Greeks won’t have to ask for help from anyone. With the economy in its seventh year of deep recession, and the Germans pushing for yet more austerity, why not just walk away? The option will be there – and it’s foolish to assume Greece won’t take it.
2. Putin hands over to a reformer
In August 2014, it will be 15 years since Vladimir Putin became Russian prime minister. He was the fifth in 18 months, and few people expected him to survive long. Instead, he turned into Russia’s strongman. But now it looks like he has run out of road. The economy is stagnating, and if western Europe ever develops its shale gas, Russia will be in real trouble.
Why not mark his 15th anniversary by surrendering power to someone who can reform the economy, liberalise markets, curb the power of the bureaucrats, and create the export industries that one of the world’s best-educated workforces should be able to nurture?
Russia is one of the cheapest major markets in the world. With a genuine reformer in charge, investors might finally take an interest in it again.
3. The Tories team up with Ukip
David Cameron and George Osborne would probably rather release pictures of themselves snorting cocaine through rolled-up copies of Mein Kampf at a Bullingdon Club re-union than strike any kind of deal with Ukip leader Nigel Farage. But by the close of 2014 an election will be looming, and desperate men will consider desperate measures.
Ukip shows no sign of going away, and its 10% of the vote will mean the difference between victory, and handing the keys to Number 10 to Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Offer Farage a clear run in 20 seats, ten of them winnable, and a referendum on the EU, and he might well agree to recommend a Tory vote across the rest of the UK. With that in the bag, the Conservative-Ukip Alliance should be set to win the 2015 election.
4. Tesco bids for Morrisons
What do you do when you are the biggest player in your sector, but your market share is falling, there is no room to grow, and you are in a strategic muddle? Easy. Launch a huge takeover bid.
Tesco can’t expand in the UK, and it is rapidly retreating from its overseas ventures. With the rise of online shopping, the UK has too many huge supermarkets. The best thing to do is to take out a rival, rationalise, strip out some costs, and hope the remaining stores make more money.
Asda isn’t for sale, and Sainsbury’s is doing too well to be bought over. But Morrisons is doing even worse than Tesco – it recently stopped cleaning its windows to save money, reportedly.
Of course, a merger may not work. But mega-mergers create years of confusion – and the chief executive will be long gone by the time it is shown to be a dud.
5. Fund managers flee Edinburgh
Few people expect the Scots to vote to leave the UK at the independence referendum in September. The polls suggest that only 27% of Scots are in the ‘yes’ camp, leaving the nationalists with a mountain to climb. But a lot can change in nine months.
From Belgium to Spain, it is clear that regions want more autonomy, not less, and it would be foolish to assume that when it comes to the crunch, the Scots won’t vote with their hearts rather than their wallets.
Edinburgh is a major financial centre, however, and while the separation of the two kingdoms is being negotiated, many of its fund managers will decide they don’t want to be on the wrong side of the border – and will start an exodus down south.
6. The return of James Crosby
Bob Diamond has come back. So have Lord Browne and Tony Hayward, the fallen ex-bosses of BP. The City has become a forgiving place, willing to welcome back those who have been kicked out in disgrace. So how about a return for James Crosby, stripped of his knighthood for his role in the collapse of HBOS?
If a payday loan company plans to list, then who better to front it than ever-optimistic Crosby? Fred Goodwin could even plot a return as the man to run a Scottish central bank – although we may have to wait until 2015 for that one.