Shortly before the 1929 crash, US economist Irving Fisher opined that “stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau”. With that caveat in mind, here are a few things that might happen in 2015.
Rupert Murdoch sells The Times: With Rupert Murdoch hurtling through his 80s, and no sign of the long-term decline in newspapers ever ending, there is not much cachet in owning The Times or The Sunday Times anymore. But it was also very difficult to sell out while they were losing money faster than a San Francisco start-up.
Murdoch is not the sort to eat humble pie. But here’s a surprise. Times Newspapers just reported its first operating profit in 13 years. It has even had some success with its paywall. That should up its price a lot.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos just bought The Washington Post – traditional media properties are all the rage among web billionaires. So it shouldn’t be hard to shake some loose change out of a tech mogul’s pockets – and that could well be a couple of billion, a more-than-decent return on Murdoch’s investment.
A secure government: With the rise of Ukip, the Greens and the Scottish Nationalists, and the two main parties struggling to get much above 30% in the polls, the conventional wisdom is that the UK is heading for a hung parliament at May’s general election. But that’s not necessarily the case.
Under a first-past-the-post system, hung parliaments are rare. Ukip and Green support is too thinly spread to win more than a few seats and most Lib Dem constituencies will fall to whichever of the Labour or Tory candidates best hang on to their core vote.
Under those circumstances, whether it’ll be a Tory or Labour majority is a toss of a coin. But it will be one or the other, with a solid five-year majority.
Deflation spreads to the UK: The eurozone is already slipping into deflation. Prices are falling in absolute terms in Greece and Spain, and Germany, France and Italy won’t be far behind. In the UK, inflation is already down to 1%, the lowest in 12 years. What makes anyone think deflation will not spread across the English Channel?
The oil price has collapsed, along with most other commodities. Overcapacity in retail is triggering savage price wars – most notably in groceries, but in other markets too. Immigration has left plenty of slack in the labour market. And we import most of our stuff from Europe (18% of our GDP consists of imports from the eurozone).
By autumn, UK inflation will be running at minus 0.3% to minus 0.5%. Would you want to raise interest rates in those circumstances? I thought not. Nor will the Bank of England.
P2P companies merge: Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending has been the big success story of the finance industry in the last few years, and its explosive growth is likely to continue. Like many other industries, cutting out expensive middlemen means a better deal for both borrowers and savers.
There are lots of companies out there, and new ones starting up all the time. Yet the one thing we have learned about the internet is that a single dominant player quickly emerges in each market.
There is one search engine, one bookshop, one auction site, and so on. In the same way, one dominant P2P company will emerge – and it will probably happen through takeovers to create a mega company.
The Polish bubble: What is the most successful European economy of the last decade? Forget Germany. It is looking very tired. Neither is it a debt-addicted UK, despite its jobs growth. It is Poland.
The country has quietly rebuilt itself from a post-Communist wreck into a well-balanced, low-debt manufacturing powerhouse, with one of the steadiest growth rates in the world.
As its companies grow beyond sub-contracting for multinationals, and as the Polish diaspora is tempted back home by better wages, growth could easily accelerate. But the Warsaw market has yet to reflect that.
At just over 50,000, the Warsaw index is still way down on the 67,000 it hit before the crash, and barely up on the last decade. This should be the year that global investors discover it – and start a much deserved revaluation.
Gordon Brown is made chairman of RBS: After the May election, Gordon Brown will no longer be an MP, and will need something to do. Funnily enough, Royal Bank of Scotland will need a new chairman, since Sir Philip Hampton will switch to GlaxoSmithKline late in 2015.
His CV certainly looks right. Brown knows about finance. He is Scottish. The referendum campaign shows he can turn around a dire situation, and his campaign against Tony Blair shows he can play the long game. It is a perfect match – and RBS owes him a favour after riding to the rescue in 2009.
And if there was one financial institution where Brown’s famous ability to end boom ’n’ bust could be usefully deployed, it is surely this one. Who knows, the markets might even grow to like him again.