Every year I seek help from many sources in preparing my annual 10 surprises list. My colleague Joe Zidle played an important role in this year’s Surprises and will be a major collaborator on the Surprises going forward. George Soros reviewed my ideas as he has since they began back in the 1980s. Gideon Rose and Dan Kurtz-Phelan of the Council on Foreign Relations gave me their thoughts on the geopolitical surprises. My Third Thursday group of former research directors provided their annual observations, and many friends and associates at Blackstone and elsewhere contributed their ideas. In the end, however, the surprises are mine, and I am accountable for the results. Now, here are my 10 surprises for 2019, which I will discuss in an upcoming essay.
- The weakening world economy encourages the Federal Reserve to stop raising the federal funds rate during the year.
- Partly because of no further rate increases by the Federal Reserve and more attractive valuations as a result of the market decline at the end of 2018, the S&P 500 gains 15 percent for the year.
- Traditional drivers of GDP growth, capital spending and housing, make only modest gains in 2019. The expansion continues, however, because of consumer and government spending. A recession before 2021 seems unlikely.
- The better tone in the financial markets discourages precious metal investors. Gold drops to $1,000 as the equity markets in the United States and elsewhere improve.
- The profit outlook for emerging markets brightens and investor interest intensifies because the price-earnings ratio is attractive compared to developed markets and historical levels. Continuous expansion of the middle class in the emerging markets provides the consumer buying thrust for earnings growth. China leads and the Shanghai composite rises 25 percent. The Brazil equity market also comes to life under the country’s new conservative leadership.
- March 29 comes and goes and there is no Brexit deal.
- The dollar stabilizes at year-end 2018 levels and stays there throughout the year. Because of concern about the economy, the Federal Reserve stops shrinking its balance sheet, which is interpreted negatively by currency traders. The flow of foreign capital into United States assets slows because of a softer monetary policy and a lack of need for new capital for business expansion.
- The Mueller investigation results in indictments against members of the Trump Organization closest to the president but the evidence doesn’t support any direct action against Trump himself. Nevertheless, an exodus of Trump’s most trusted advisers results in a crisis in confidence that the administration has the people and the process to accomplish important goals.
- Congress, however, with a Democratic majority, gets more done than expected, particularly on trade policy. Progress is made in preserving important parts of the Affordable Care Act and immigration policy. A federal infrastructure program to be implemented in 2020 is announced.
- Growth stocks continue to provide leadership in the U.S. equity market. Technology and biotech do well as a result of continued strong earnings. Value stocks other than energy-related businesses disappoint because of the slowing economy.
So there they are: The 10 surprises of 2019. Now let’s see how the year plays out.
Byron Wien is vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners.