Happy New Year! What lies ahead in 2015?

From Mario Draghi resigning to a UK property crash, John Stepek takes a look at some of the more interesting predictions for 2015.


Mario Draghi could step down as head of the European Central Bank

Happy New Year!

I'm sure you're reading this with a clear head and a perky smile, ready to greet the first day of 2015.

But just on the off-chance that you are in fact gazing at your screen through a whisky-infused haze right now and nothing wrong with that I thought I'd keep things simple.

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Today we're going to look at some of the wildest predictions of 2015 and what they might mean for investors.

The biggest lesson from 2014 ignore the crowd

If 2014 taught us all one thing (and it's a lesson we seemingly all need to be taught over and over again), it was to ignore conventional wisdom.

At the start of the year, almost everyone thought there was a floor' under the crude oil price of around $100 a barrel. By the end of the year, of course, oil had fallen to around $60 a barrel. And there's no guarantee it won't go lower next year.

Every year, Saxobank puts out ten outrageous' predictions for markets over the coming year. These aren't meant to be taken entirely seriously they're more in the spirit of outside the box' stuff that might take everyone by surprise.

One of their 2014 ideas was for the crude oil price to drop to $80 a barrel.

For me, this says two things. Firstly, it shows just how confident everyone was that oil prices would stay high the idea that $80 a barrel was an outrageous' prediction seems incredibly tame now.

Secondly, it's not a bad idea to take a look at Saxo's predictions for 2015 to see what they have to say this year.

Some of the predictions are less surprising than others. Nigel Farage becomes deputy prime minister in the May election, leading to a 2017 British exit from the European Union. It's fun but it's just political speculation I can come up with far more outrageous scenarios.

The price of cocoa hits $5,000 a tonne yes I like chocolate as much as the next person, but I can't be bothered fiddling around with obscure Aim stocks or complex derivatives to take a punt on the price. As for Russia defaulting again it might be unlikely but it's hardly out there'.

A couple fall into the black swan' category they happen or they don't. A volcanic eruption decimating crops is one. Hackers destroying the online shopping sector is another.

Here are the five I think are worth a second look.

Saxobank's five most interesting outrageous' predictions

1. Mario Draghi quits the European Central Bank

The idea here is that Draghi steps down to take on the job of Italian president. Jens Weidmann, head of the Bundesbank, takes over from him, and in exchange, allows "a QE-light programme to go ahead under the supervision of a German president".

This actually seems very sensible to me. Draghi clearly hasn't been able to overcome German opposition entirely, or QE would have started by now. This could be just the compromise Europe needs to get QE pushed through.

The danger of course, is that even with QE, investors would look at a German central banker and start to fret about the potential for monetary discipline coming back, and so leave the euro stronger rather than weaker.

2. Japanese inflation to hit 5%

The point of Japan's massive QE programme is to boost inflation. But Saxo reckons that there's an outside chance of Japan getting a lot more inflation than it expects. Essentially, it warns that if Japan's reforms don't work it'll keep throwing money at the problem. Asset prices will rise, the yen will weaken further, and import prices will rise as a result.

We don't see anything this drastic happening but in the early days at least, it would certainly be good news for anyone investing in Japan (particularly with a currency hedge).

3. A UK property crash

British property shares some similarities with oil at the start of 2014. Everyone thinks it can't go down in price, and everyone thinks that it's relatively scarce. But that's increasingly not the case.

For one thing, house price growth has cooled remarkably in recent months, particularly in London, where fear of higher taxes and stricter mortgage rules seems to have hit prices hard. For another, efforts to boost supply are having an impact as a piece on Bloomberg in October put it, "homebuilding in central London doubled in two years" amid low rates and high prices.

Saxo reckons that the threat of higher rates from the Bank of England will also put pressure on "mortgage rates and in turn household finances already undermined by" low wages. They suggest prices could fall by as much as 25% this year eye-catching, but not impossible.

4. China devalues yuan by 20%

This would be the equivalent of China doing QE weakening its currency to boost demand. It certainly isn't out of the question, although it would raise headlines about a currency war' all over again. But as far as investing goes, we rather like China and this would merely be a boost for the market so we'd stick with China for now.

5. Corporate bond spreads to double

Here, Saxo is basically talking about junk bonds in Europe seeing their prices crash and their yields surge, as investors lose faith in the European Central Bank's desire or ability to act to encourage growth in the European economy. As Europe stagnates, the prices of the most vulnerable bonds those the ECB won't buy will collapse.

It wouldn't stun us to get to the end of this year and see any one of these having happened. Some would be tougher for investors than others a UK housing crash would no doubt go with rising fear of financial instability and a dropping pound, for example.

But while it's not easy to protect yourself from these sorts of outliers, as I've mentioned before, one thing I do like is the MoneyWeek investment trust portfolio. It did a decent job in 2014 against a tough market and I hope it can do the same in 2015. You can find out what's in it and get your first eight issues of MoneyWeek free by signing up here.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.