Significant economic and political changes will make 2012 a historical year. The globe has experienced relative calm for the past 24 months. That stability won’t last much longer. Events that are not on anyone’s radar screen will matter the most. The following are the things that I think might happen, but it’s the surprises that worry me.
-Silas Kiplagat will win the 1500-meter race at the Summer Olympics in London. The time will be 3:33:22.
-Obama will drop Joe Biden from the ticket. Obama will want a Veep that has a chance to be a viable presidential candidate. He will chose Hilary Clinton.
-Green Bay will beat Denver in the Super Bowl. (Millions of Christians will be disappointed).
-Mitt (the suit) Romney will be the Republican presidential candidate. The nomination will be a fight to the very end. Newt (the fool) Gingrich will come close, but will not get the nod. Romney will announce that his running mate will be South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley. Her presence on the ticket will give Mitt a chance.
-Ron Paul will run as a third party candidate (Green) He will get 10% of the popular vote. He will upend any chance the Republicans have.
-The presidential election will go to Obama. Ending up with only 44% of the vote, he will not have a mandate. The battleground states will be Pennsylvania and Ohio. Billions will be spent on getting the votes in those states. Pennsylvania will go to Obama. Ohio will go with Romney. The electoral vote margin will be very narrow as a result.
-The Kepler spacecraft (link) will identify a planet that has the capacity to sustain life (the ultimate safe haven). The scientists at CERN will confirm the observation of particles exceeding the speed of light. These developments will result in significant rethinking by the scientific community.
-The Senate will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The new VP will have deciding votes on several key issues.
-Republicans will retain their majority in the House. Gridlock will be the outcome. There will be no new legislation of significance in 2012. A lost year.
-Iran will attempt to disrupt sea traffic in the Straits of Hormuz. Naval exercises by NATO, USA and China will be required to escort tankers through troubled waters. There will be an incident culminating in shots being fired. It will scare the hell out of everyone, but full military action will be avoided.
-Iraq will fall into sectarian violence. Car bombings will beset the country. The Kurds, in the north, will attempt to separate themselves from Baghdad. Turkey will get involved as a result of border problems. In the south (Basra/oil ports), the local Shia government will ask neighboring Iran, to help bring stability. The Iranians will establish a police presence.
-Brent crude prices will swing between a low of $80 and a high of $155. The highest level will be reached in September.
-Australia will suffer from a significant economic slowdown. The A$ will fall to 90 versus the buck.
-Cyprus will make a significant new gas find. This will result in territorial claims by Turkey. The UN, lead by Russia, will get involved in the dispute.
-Europe’s economic problems will not be solved. Every effort will be made to kick the can down the road. Neither the can nor the road will collapse; that will happen in 2013. EU GDP will struggle to hold zero.
-It will be confirmed that Iran has nukes and the capacity to deliver them. Iran will successfully test fire a Shahab 3c missile. Israel will not attack Iran.
-The US housing market will stabilize. Rental costs will rise by 7%. This, coupled with extremely low debt costs, will increase the demand for homes. In addition, the costs of constructing new homes will soar due to rising costs of materials. Virtually everything used to build a home (from cement to shingles) will rise in price by 10%. Construction of new homes will remain muted as a result.
-During the year, the ECB will be forced to actively intervene in the EU bond market on multiple occasions. Ten-year yields for Italy will range from 5 to 8%. Spanish yields will rise to 10% at one point. French bonds will reach 7%. The enormous refinancing requirements of EU countries and banks will be a constant problem. The market will become obsessed with the weekly bond auctions. There will be many disappointing results.
-The EU banks will struggle, kept alive by LTROs and E150B of new equity injections into the banks (a la Tarp). Public assistance to the banks will exceed E1 Trillion. The EU banks will not adopt the Basel Core Tier 1 capital ratio of 9% in June; the planned recapitalization will be shelved for a year. There will be much discussion about the scale of the government’s involvement, which will be recognized as unsustainable. By year’s end, the noose will be tighter and the financial options greatly diminished. By December 2012, the Euro Zone won’t be expected to survive another year.
-The Swiss National Bank will maintain the 1.20 peg to the Euro. By the end of the year, the talk will be about how much longer the peg will continue. The SNB will acknowledge that the peg was a temporary measure. The speculation will be about how long “temporary” actually is.
-The Euro will range from a high of 1.4 to a low of 1.15. The low for the year will occur in November.
-The Yen will (finally) weaken. The low for the USDYEN will be 76.5 the high will be 90. (It’s a great short). The problem for Japan will be its 200% debt to GDP. Global investors will shun the Japanese bond markets. Ten-year yields will rise to over 2% as a result. While Japan has gotten away with its excessive debt for years and global investors always had reasons to park cash in Japanese Government Bonds (JGBs), there will be no reasons left in 2012.
-As the US’s presence in Afghanistan winds down, the Taliban will retake the country. The chaotic US exit will be compared with the end of the Viet Nam war.
-The Syrian government will fall. The country will face an uncertain future. There will be sectarian violence in Libya. Sophisticated weapons, including SAM missiles will be used. In Egypt, Field Marshal Tantawi, will consolidate power. Protests will continue throughout the region. The MENA economies will broadly suffer.
-The S&P will range from a low of 900 to a high of 1400. The high for the year will occur before June.
-The US GDP will languish. Growth will range from 1.5 to 2%. There will be clear evidence of a slowdown by mid-year. Unemployment will fall to as low as 8.5%, but will end the year back above 9%. The BLS will report 1.6mm of new jobs created during the year but the “birth/death” model will reduce that by 600,000. Labor force participation will continue to decline.
-Modest economic activity and core inflation above 2% will tie the Federal Reserve’s hands for the first part of the year. Politics will prevent it from acting prior to the election. In December of 2012, the Fed will be free to initiate another round of QE – an $800 billion Large Scale Asset Purchase (LSAP) will follow. The Fed’s new POMO operations will be divided equally between Treasury bonds and Agency Mortgage paper.
-The Vix will be volatile. The average for the year will be 30. It will exceed 45 twice.
-Greece will continue pretending it wants to be in the EU and tied to the Euro, until July. Its deteriorating economy and inability to service its restructured debt will force Greece to leave the EU and re-establish the Drachma. The New Drachma will trade as high as 1,000 to the dollar (800/Euro). When the Drachma is brought back (over a weekend), the Greeks will formally default on their external debt. This won’t be the crisis that everyone fears, but it will add to the instability in the other peripherals. Populations in Ireland and Portugal will protest that their countries should follow Greece’s steps.
– The Academy Award winners:
Best Movie War Horse
Best Director Steven Spielberg
Best Actor George Cloony
Best Actress Michelle Williams
Best Support. Actor Christopher Plummer
Best Support. Actress Jessica Chastain
Best Orig. Screenplay The Tree of Life
Best Adapted ” War Horse
-North Korea will be a problematic. Counter to expectations, Kim Jung-Un will not be the actual ruler. The generals will conspire with Kim’s uncle, Jan Song Taek, to take over leadership. There will be an occasional pop shot from north to south. The real trouble will come when NK boards and then sinks a S. Korean fishing vessel. This will bring US aircraft carriers off the shores of NK. China will hate this development. A nasty incident is the most likely outcome.
-The Miami Heat will fail to make the playoffs. LA will beat Boston.
-Keynesian economic thinking will be further discredited in 2012. The pump-priming Keynesians had their day in the sun, and now people will want a different approach. Paul Krugman will write a total of 100 blogs decrying this development. Larry Summers will write an OpEd for the WSJ warning that the US faces a strategic crisis if it does not contain the trajectory of the national debt.
-Gold will be very volatile. It will fall to below $1400 at one point. It will end the year above $2000.
-There is a significant risk of a big economic hiccup at the end of the year. The election has deferred dozens of tax/spending issues to 1/1/13. There is enough deflationary firepower built into the system to trigger a big slowdown. Post election, there will be just weeks to sort it out, or face the music. The drama and the pain of the just completed election will make it impossible to avoid a conflict.
-Japan will confront two divergent issues. Debates regarding the future development of nuclear energy for civilian use will arise as the true costs of the disaster at Fukushima are realized. Significant portions of the country will have to be abandoned. Costs of encapsulating and cleaning up will exceed $50 billion. At the same time, a growing force within the country will push to develop tactical nuclear weapons. The US’s mandatory budget cuts for its military will elicit an extraordinary change which will take years to play out. Japan will lose confidence that its “protector” will be able to protect it.
-India will surprise everyone. GDP growth will fall from 9% to 3% (well under stall speed). Inflation will exceed 10%. The trade and current account deficit will rise. The Rupee will hit 60 per dollar.
-China’s GDP will fall to 4%. China has already overspent in infrastructure development. The buildout of empty cities will slow and unemployment will rise rapidly. This will stress the country and lead to political protests in many cities.
-Tiger Woods will win a major.
-China will continue to fund the west. It will allocate more capital to the core countries of Europe. China will get trade deals in exchange for its willingness to buy bonds. The holdings of US treasury debt will decline modestly for the year. The Chinese will react to the ongoing pressure from the US to force the Yuan to appreciate by doing precisely the opposite. The CHY will be worth the same next year as it is today.
-Bank of America will be forced to pare down its asset base. The stock will spend most of the year under $5. The subordinated debt will trade cheap.
-Goldman Sachs (GS) will go private. There will be many layoffs. The Squid will end up stronger than ever.
-The San Francisco Giants will win the World Series. The Yanks will be the loser.
-In March, it will finally be determined that MF Global used re-hypothecation to fund its operations. The customer losses will be attributed to this activity. Realized customer losses will exceed $1B. JPM will be identified as one of the banks that grabbed MFG assets in the final days. Customers will file civil claims against JPM, but those will be dismissed. Criminal charges will not be filed against MFG, Corzine nor JPM. The flaws in the system will be attributed to Reg. T. The Fed will promise a thorough review of the country’s margin rules. Nothing will be completed until 2013.
-Apple (AAPL) will trade as high as $450. It will end the year under $350. The company will come out with a TV that won’t be much of a success. Apple will lose out to Amazon (and others) in the “Cloud”. This will prove to be a strategic error.
-The cost of solar panels will fall to a level where large scale, privately funded solar farms become viable. The debt for these farms will be functionally secured by a public utility and will be repackaged with shorter maturities that have a AAA rating. The lowest tranches of debt will have returns as high as 20%. Wall Street will love it and so will investors. Some utility stocks will do well as they have secured a source of renewable energy that meets the recently legislated requirements (RECs).
-Boeing’s shares will fall to $55. There will be problems with the Dream Liner.
-Dividend stocks will underperform the broad averages. The observation will (finally) be made that this is a very crowded trade and 2% does not compensate investors for their risks.
-Creative Cause (son of Giant’s Causeway) will win the Kentucky Derby.
-The Chevy volt will suffer from numerous battery problems. There will be fires that result in serious injuries. The future of GM’s electric car will come into question. The stock will fall to the teens. Tesla’s outlook will become uncertain. Obama’s investment in Tesla will be a campaign issue.
-La Nina conditions will persist for the first six months of the year, bringing a series of big storms to Asia. Substantial new flooding will occur in the Philippines and Thailand. West Texas will have another dry year, the central states will have above average rain, and the North East will have a very bad winter.
-Silver will follow gold up and down. It will underperform gold. It won’t hit $50.
-Narco violence in Mexico will escalate. There will be gun play on the border. Mexico will reiterate its position that the problem is the demand from the gringos, not the supply from Mexico. This thinking will lead to renewed discussion on legalization of Marijuana. Phillip Morris’s stock will rise above $90 in anticipation.
-BRIC investments will continue to underperform. Several big hitters will repudiate this investment strategy. That will mark the bottom of these markets on a comparative basis.
-Global food inflation will continue to be a problem. Global growth will advance by 2%, the cost of feeding ourselves will increase by 5%. Asia/India will bear the biggest brunt of the increasing cost of food. Wheat prices will rise 12%.
-US inflation will remain on the high side. Core will average 2.5% (1/2% above the Fed’s target). CPI will come in at 3.8%. Real inflation will be much higher. Treasury Tips will underperform. The Ten-Year Tips/Coupon spread will widen to 2.75%.
-Few countries will avoid social protests and demonstrations. Many will turn violent. America will not be spared. The angst of the people will be directed at their leaders, their lenders and the IMF. A redo of 2011.
-The election will spur debate on the future of America’s entitlement programs. There will be broad based agreement that the time has come to address the problems with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Politicians will try to divert the focus away from Social Security by pointing fingers at the Disability Insurance side of SSA. While it’s correct that this program is a complete disaster, the DI Fund is not the problem. The Retirement Fund is the real problem. The attention that DI will get is just a diversion from what is actually wrong with America’s favorite entitlement program. This will be a “young” versus “old” fight. Both sides will come to understand this.
-The summer of 2012 will bring the largest polar ice melt in history. The Mayan calendar will end with no consequence.