Byron Wien, the vice chairman of private-equity giant Blackstone, has been making his list of ten surprises for 37 years. Previously the chief U.S. investment strategist at Morgan Stanley, Wien has been with Blackstone since 2009.
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These days Wien makes his “surprise” predictions with Joe Zidle, chief investment strategist in Blackstone’s private wealth solutions. Surprise is defined here as an event with a better than 50% likelihood of happening but that an average investor would assign a one in three possibility.
While the pair have published their list of 2022 surprises, it might be more informative to review last year’s surprises.
- “Former President Trump starts his own television network and also plans his 2024 campaign.” He certainly seems to be gearing up for a 2024 run. As for the TV network, there’s none in existence as yet, though the Trump Media & Technology Group has been formed on paper at least, hired Rep. Devin Nunes to be its chief executive, and has agreed to be acquired by special-purpose acquisition company Digital World Acquisition Company
- “Despite the hostile rhetoric from both sides during the U.S. presidential campaign, President Biden begins to restore a constructive diplomatic and trade relationship with China. China A shares lead emerging markets higher.” The diplomatic mending is still in its infancy, though what Wien and Zidle didn’t seem to account for was China derailing its own stock market with aggressive regulation.
- “The success of between five and ten vaccines, together with an improvement in therapeutics, allows the U.S. to return to some form of ‘normal’ by Memorial Day 2021.” Mostly correct, even if some of the details, like spectators at the Olympics, didn’t materialize.
- “The Justice Department softens its case against Google and Facebook persuaded by the argument that the consumer actually benefits from the services provided by these companies.” No sign of that, and many expect tougher action by U.S. authorities this year.
- “The economy develops momentum on its own because of pent-up demand, and depressed hospitality and airline stocks become strong performers.” Right on the economy, mixed on stocks — the JETS exchange-traded fund, for instance, peaked in March, while leisure stocks enjoyed strong gains but did underperform the S&P 500
- “The Federal Reserve and the Treasury openly embrace Modern Monetary Theory as their accommodative policies continue.” The rise of inflation stamped this trend out.
- “Even as energy company executives cut estimates for long-term growth, near-term opportunities are increasing. The return to ‘normal’ increases both industrial activity and mobility, and the price of West Texas Intermediate oil rises to $65/bbl.” A good call here, with WTI surging 55%.
- “The equity market broadens out. Stocks beyond health care and technology participate in the rise in prices.” Participate, yes, but the market was still overwhelmingly tech-focused.
- “The surge in economic growth causes the 10-year Treasury yield to rise to 2%.” Directionally correct, though a half-point off.
- “The slide in the dollar turns around.” It sure did, with the WSJ dollar index jumping 5%.
They certainly didn’t get ten for ten. But in all, the pair did well in predicting the direction of major assets, apart from the Chinese stock market, and they may have been too early in thinking equity-market gains would broaden out.
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Here’s their 2022 list.
- “The combination of strong earnings clashes with rising interest rates, resulting in the S&P 500 making no progress in 2022. Value outperforms growth. High volatility continues and there is a correction that approaches, but does not exceed, 20%.
- While the prices of some commodities decline, wages and rents continue to rise and the Consumer Price Index and other widely followed measures of inflation increase by 4.5% for the year. Declines in prices of transportation and energy encourage the die-hard proponents of the view that inflation is “transitory,” but persistent inflation becomes the dominant theme.
- The bond market begins to respond to rising inflation and tapering by the Federal Reserve, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury rises to 2.75%. The Fed completes its tapering and raises rates four times in 2022.
- In spite of the Omicron variant, group meetings and convention gatherings return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. While Covid remains a problem throughout both the developed and the less-developed world, normal conditions are largely restored in the US. People spend three to four a days a week in offices and return to theaters, concerts, and sports arenas en masse.
- Chinese policymakers respond to recent turmoil in the country’s property markets by curbing speculative investment in housing. As a result, there is more capital from Chinese households that needs to be invested. A major asset management industry begins to flourish in China, creating opportunities for Western companies.
- The price of gold rallies by 20% to a new record high. Despite strong growth in the US, investors seek the perceived safety and inflation hedge of gold amidst rising prices and volatility. Gold reclaims its title as a haven for newly minted billionaires, even as cryptocurrencies continue to gain market share.
- While the major oil-producing countries conclude that high oil prices are speeding up the implementation of alternative energy programs and allowing US shale producers to become profitable again, these countries can’t increase production enough to meet demand. The price of West Texas crude confounds forward curves and analyst forecasts when it rises above $100 per barrel.
- Suddenly, the nuclear alternative for power generation enters the arena. Enough safety measures have been developed to reduce fears about its dangers, and the viability of nuclear power is widely acknowledged. A major nuclear site is approved for development in the Midwest of the United States. Fusion technology emerges as a possible future source of energy.
- ESG evolves beyond corporate policy statements. Government agencies develop and enforce new regulatory standards that require public companies in the US to publish information documenting progress on various metrics deemed critical in the new era. Federal Reserve governors spearhead implementation of stress tests to assess financial institutions’ vulnerability to climate change scenarios.
- In a setback to its green energy program, the United States finds it cannot buy enough lithium batteries to power the electric vehicles planned for production. China controls the lithium market, as well as the markets for the cobalt and nickel used in making the transmission rods, and it opts to reserve most of the supply of these commodities for domestic use.”