As we wind down 2011, the time for predictions for what is to come as nigh. Having posted what UBS believes their biggest list of surprises for 2012 will be earlier, we next proceed with out long-term favorite - Saxobank's list of "Outrageous Predictions" for what the bank has dubbed "2012: the Perfect Storm." Mostly proposed tongue in cheek (unlike predictions by other pundits who actually believe their own delusions), the list of 10 suggestions represents nothing less than an attempt to force people "out of the box" and look at the world with a set of "what if" eyes. Because if there is anything 2011 taught is, it is not to discount any one event from happening. As Saxo says: "Should one, two or three of our Outrageous Predictions come to pass, it would make 2012 a year of tremendous change. This may not necessarily be a negative thing either - and given the structure and uncertainties in the marketplace here at the end of 2011, we would suggest that even if none of our predictions come to pass, equally important and totally unanticipated events will. Sometimes we need to get to a new starting point before we can gain the right perspective. We hope 2012 will be the year where we start on the long march towards re-establishing jobs, growth and confidence." Naturally, the best outcome for 2012 would be the end of the broken status quo model, and a global fresh reset... but not even we are that deluded to believe that the quadrillions in credit money (real or synthetic) will allow such a revolutionary event to occur in such a brief period of time. At least not before everything is thrown at the intractable problem unfortunately has just one possible long-term outcome. In the meantime, here, to help readers expand their minds, is Saxo Bank's list of "Outrageous Predictions" for 2012.
From Saxo's Chief Economist Steen Jakobsen
2012: THE PERFECT STORM
Generating this year’s Outrageous Predictions has been even more of a pleasure than usual, as it seems that never before have there been so many path uncertainties for the future, so we have had an infinite variety of scenarios to draw on. As usual, we try to keep at least a measure of consistency across the predictions by using a unifying theme. For this year, we settled on the theme for 2012: The Perfect Storm.
Saxo Bank’s yearly Outrageous Predictions report has always been one of our more popular publications, and understandably so, as it frees us and our readers from the constraints of the high probability events in the middle of the supposed bell curve of possibilities. But there are a few key points I need to underline about this publication:
The first is that we always focus on “fat tail” predictions, i.e. events that are unlikely to happen, but are perhaps far more likely than the market appreciates. Saxo Bank first launched this publication 10 years ago as an exercise in looking at events which, should they happen, would change the outlook and performance of markets. This was before the concept of Black Swans was popularised. Our publication was rather inspired by option theory and looking at the tail-risk – an event which based on odds or logic has a very small chance of happening, but somehow still happens far more often than any model is able to predict.
Consider volatility during the 2008 Financial Crisis which no model could even imagine. Or think about a natural disaster like the earthquake/tsunami that hit Fukushima. Disaster planning could supposedly handle a very substantial earthquake and Fukushima was supposedly located in a low risk zone. But instead, Japan suffered an earthquake of severity which seemed impossible in Japan’s geology, and the resultant tsunami wiped out back-up power. The unimaginable happened once again.
Saxo Bank’s yearly Outrageous Predictions are not intended as real predictions and certainly not as “forecasts” in any way. Rather, the Outrageous Predictions are 10 important events with under-recognised probabilities in our view. Should any of them come to pass, they would change the way we need to analyse, trade and report the markets.
It is also important to note that our Outrageous Predictions nearly always have a negative bias, which is in fact a natural antidote to how the market normally operates. Human beings have a tendency to think positively, which is a natural part of our motivation to get up and go to work every day and a vital part of our survival instinct. Day in and day out we think about building a better future based on a continuation of the present.
This is good for morale but does a poor job of preparing us for reality.
In that light, please do not let our Outrageous Predictions get you down. They have been prepared in the spirit of encouraging you to think outside the box and prepare for world-altering events. Thinking outside the box is rarely a comfortable exercise, but neither is dealing with an unpleasant surprise for which one has failed to prepare in any meaningful way.
Should one, two or three of our Outrageous Predictions come to pass, it would make 2012 a year of tremendous change. This may not necessarily be a negative thing either - and given the structure and uncertainties in the marketplace here at the end of 2011, we would suggest that even if none of our predictions come to pass, equally important and totally unanticipated events will. Sometimes we need to get to a new starting point before we can gain the right perspective. We hope 2012 will be the year where we start on the long march towards re-establishing jobs, growth and confidence.
Maybe, just maybe, our Outrageous Predictions can at least lead to a discussion on how we can prevent some of them from happening. We would like nothing more than to be proven wrong on negative views, but only if they are replaced with something better than the current central bank and government-manipulated paradigm.
OUTRAGEOUS PREDICTIONS 2012
1 - THE STOCK OF APPLE INC PLUMMETS 50 PERCENT FROM 2011 HIGH
No sovereign or corporate empire has ever maintained its superior position for long because attacks mount and loyalty fades. Going into 2012 Apple will find itself faced with multiple competitors such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft/Nokia, and Samsung across its most innovative products, the iPhone and iPad. Apple will be unable to maintain its market share of 55 percent (three times as much as Android) and 66 percent on the iOS and iPad as Android will gain further momentum and Amazon’s low priced Kindle Fire will cut deeply into Apple’s tablet reign. In relation to current earnings Apple is not expensive but expectations about future profit growth will come down hard as competition reaches insane levels and crushes Apple’s profit margins.
2 - EU DECLARES EXTENDED BANK HOLIDAY DURING 2012
The December EU Treaty changes prove insufficient to solve EU funding needs – particularly those in Italy – and the EU debt crisis returns with a vengeance by mid-year. In response, the stock market finally caves in and drops 25 percent in short order, prompting EU politicians to call an extended bank holiday – closing all European exchanges and banks for a week or more. EU leaders gather like Vatican cardinals at a conclave to hammer out a “New Europe”. This could result in EU officials overstepping their mandate once again with new burdensome command and control measures that further violate the principles of the EU and free markets. Regardless, this “final” attempt leads straight to a popular overthrow of the old order and beginning of destruction of the sovereign debt time bomb. A period of pain is inevitable, but this will quickly allow a “new EU” to regroup with new membership and a new base from which its economies and markets can start planning for the future, rather than dealing with the mistakes of the past.
3 - A YET UNANNOUNCED CANDIDATE TAKES THE WHITE HOUSE
In 1992, a savvy, yet highly erratic Texas billionaire named Ross Perot managed to take advantage of a recessionary economy and popular disgust with US politics and reap 18.9 percent of the popular vote. Step forward to 2008, and Obama promises “real change” from eight years of Republican rule as the economy is nose-diving. Now, three years of Obama has brought too little change and only additional widespread disillusionment with the entire US political system. Going into the election in 2012, the incumbent Democrats are in ideological disarray and will get the blame for continued economic malaise and the favour-the-rich Republicans will never win the popular vote with the US rich/poor gap at a record width and social tension rising. In short, conditions for a third party candidate have never been riper. Someone smart enough to sense this and with a strong programme for real change throws his hat in the ring early in 2012 and snatches the presidency in November in one of the most pivotal elections in US history, taking 38 percent of the popular vote. A new political order is born.
4 - AUSTRALIA GOES INTO RECESSION
The Chinese locomotive has been losing steam throughout 2011 as investment and real estate led growth becomes harder and harder to come by due to diminishing marginal returns. The effects of the slowing of the up-and-coming Asian giant ripple through Asia Pacific and push other countries into recession. If there ever was a country dependent on the well-being of China it is Australia with its heavy dependence on mining and natural resources. And as China’s demand for these goods weakens Australia is pushed into a recession, which is then exacerbated as the housing sector finally experiences its long overdue crash – a half decade after the rest of the developed world.
5 - BASEL III AND REGULATION FORCE 50 BANK NATIONALISATIONS IN EUROPE
As 2012 begins, pressure will mount on the European banking system as new capital requirements and regulatory pressure force banks to deleverage in a great hurry. This creates a fire sale on financial assets as there are few takers in the market. Troubled sovereigns, structural funding gaps and massive trading books set the scene for the largest bank rescue operation in Europe’s history. Politicians, eager to score points with the public, create a regulatory mob enforcing value destruction in the banking system “in the name of greater good”. A total freeze of the European interbank market forces nervous savers to make bank-runs, as depositors distrust deposit guarantees from insolvent sovereigns. More than 50 banks end up on government balance sheets and several known commercial bank brands cease to exist.
6 - SWEDEN AND NORWAY REPLACE SWITZERLAND AS SAFE HAVENS
Sweden and Norway are at risk of replacing Switzerland as the new safe havens – “risk” because, as we saw with Switzerland, becoming a safe haven in a world of devaluing central banks presents a number of risks to a country’s economy. The capital markets of both countries are far smaller than Switzerland, (the combined FX volume in Sweden and Norway being a mere fraction of Switzerland’s), but the Swiss are aggressively devaluing their currency and money managers are looking for new safe havens for capital. At the same time, Germany and its balance sheet are embroiled in the EU debt debacle and the classic safe haven appeal of 10-year Bunds is fading fast. Sweden and Norway sport excellent current account fundamentals, prudent social policies and skilled and flexible labour forces. Flows into the two countries’ government bonds on safe haven appeal becomes popular enough to drive 10-year rates there to more than 100 basis points below the classic safe haven German Bunds.
7 - SWISS NATIONAL BANK WINS AND CATAPULTS EURCHF TO 1.50
Switzerland’s persistency in fighting the appreciation of its currency will continue to pay off in 2012. After the dramatic failure of direct FX intervention in the market in 2009 and 2010 and after EURCHF threatened to destroy the Swiss economy with its death spiral towards parity in mid-2011, the Swiss National Bank and Swiss government finally joined forces to engineer an aggressive expansion of money supply and established a floor in EURCHF at 1.20. With Swiss fundamentals – particularly export related – continuing to suffer mightily in 2012 from past CHF strength, the SNB and government bear down further to prevent more collateral damage and introduce extensions to existing programmes and even negative interest rates to trigger sufficient capital flight from the traditional safe haven of Switzerland to engineer a move in EURCHF as high as 1.50 during the year, much to the chagrin of those who believe central banks can’t intervene successfully.
8 - USDCNY RISES 10 PERCENT TO 7.00
The impressive growth rates in the world’s second-largest economy, China, since the end of the Great Recession have been predicated on investment and exports. As marginal returns from building million-inhabitant ghost towns diminish and exporters struggle with razor-thin margins due to the advancing CNY China gets to the brink of a “recession”, meaning 5-6 per cent GDP growth. Chinese policymakers come to the rescue of exporters by allowing the CNY to decline against a US Dollar - buoyed by its safe-haven status amid slowing global growth and an on-going Eurozone sovereign debt crisis - and send the pair up to 7.00 for a 10 percent increase.
9 - BALTIC DRY INDEX RISES 100 PERCENT
Despite the dry bulk fleet being expected to outgrow demand in 2012, leading to further over capacity, several factors could surprise resulting in a price spike in the Baltic Dry Index. Lower oil prices in 2012 could lead to an increase in the Baltic Dry Index as operating expenses go down. Brazil and Australia are expected to expand iron ore supply, further leading to lower prices and therefore higher import demand from China to satisfy its insatiable industrial production. In combination with monetary easing this leads to a massive spike in iron ore demand. The last shock that could impact the dry bulk market is exceptional dry weather, due to El Nino, leading to a plunge in hydropower electricity generation and thereby fuelling demand for coal imports.
10 - WHEAT PRICES TO DOUBLE IN 2012
The price of CBOT wheat will double during 2012 after having been the worst performing crop in 2011. The drop was brought about due to a combination of farmers responding to high prices in 2010/11 and normalised weather in the Former Soviet Union. However with 7 billion people on the earth and money printing machines at full throttle bad weather across the world will unfortunately return and make it a tricky year for agricultural products. Wheat especially will rally strongly as speculative investors, who had built up one of the biggest short positions on record, will help drive the price back towards the record high last seen in 2008.
And for those curious, here are Saxo's "Outrageous Predictions" from a year earlier.
US CONGRESS BLOCKS BERNANKE’S QE3
As we move into the second half of 2011, politicians and pundits increasingly succeed in putting the Fed in the hot seat for having been the critical enabler of the US housing debacle and resulting bank bailout and public debt catastrophe. Meanwhile, the too-big-to-fail banks are back in deep trouble again as their troubled mortgage portfolios once again threaten their solvency. The Fed’s Bernanke rallies the FOMC to indicate a strong new expansion of monetary policy to once again bail out the troubled banks and/or local governments. Emboldened by the political and popular winds blowing, however, a Ron Paul led challenge of the Fed’s authority sees the Congress blocking the Fed’s authority to expand its balance sheet, and sets up an eventual challenge of the Fed’s dual employment/inflation mandate.
APPLE BUYS FACEBOOK
What do you do when you want domination of the electronic and mobile device consumer market and have no significant presence in social networking? Oh, and a war chest of a mere USD 51 billion? You buy Facebook, the mother lode of (yet to be monetised) social networks. Facebook is worth USD 43 billion, according to sharespost.com. In interviews, Apple CEO Steve Jobs has explained that Apple was in talks with Facebook about partnership opportunities, but that the talks ultimately produced nothing. Facebook was after “onerous terms that we could not agree to”, according to Jobs. At the Web 2.0 Summit Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called for Apple to ease its approach to connecting Ping with Facebook, and said that Apple had to “get on the bus”. Steve Jobs might get on the bus indeed and buy Facebook outright. It makes perfect sense; Facebook doesn’t compete against Apple and it ‘faces up’ to Google, which Jobs loves since Google has become his new number one enemy. It’s a deal made in heaven… The gigantic 500+ million Facebook user base could be integrated across Apple’s consumer products and services - every Facebook user automatically has an iTunes Store account and FaceTime chat is integrated into Facebook chat. That’s a lot of iOS devices.
US DOLLAR INDEX TOPS 100
The economic growth trajectory in most areas of the world appears healthy for a time in 2011 – at least outside of Europe and Japan. But then trouble occurs in China, where its new 12th five-year plan aimed at increasing consumption fails to function as hoped. With the Chinese industrial base growing more slowly or not at all as a result of the policy shift, the satellite countries dependent on Chinese demand see their economies facing a rough adjustment. This puts global risk appetite in a tail spin, and with the Japanese economy struggling and the Eurozone in disarray, the US dollar suddenly doesn’t look as bad as it did previously. This is especially the case since the market was massively short of the currency at the beginning of the year. The unwinding of these positions pushes the USD index 25% higher to over 100 late in the third quarter of 2011.
US 30-YEAR TREASURY YIELD SLIDES TO 3%
The dollar devaluation policy, with its roots in the ‘currency wars’ of 2010, force emerging markets to use more of their spare dollars on Treasuries. Also, the US edges over the brink toward a ‘Japanisation’ of its economy with core inflation dropping. The Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing did not have any positive effects, apart from easing the balance sheet woes of American banks. Main Street did not receive much except some benefits from slightly higher stock prices, and with a failure to clear out the system, borrowing returns only slowly and recovery does not gain traction. And then there’s the Eurozone, where the ECB, EU and IMF fail to cure the ills of the peripheral PIIGS, pushing the flock of flustered investors to the safe haven of Uncle Sam. The feel-good factor may have been on the rise in the US in the latter part of 2010, but it vanishes in 2011 and the 30-year Treasury yield drops to 3%.
AUSSIE-STERLING DIVES 25%
The UK returns to the values of the old days; they work harder, they save more, and soon enough a surprisingly strong expansion in 2011 is underway as the austerity-stricken country defies the naysayers. The markets have it in for the UK, giving the wide expectation that the economy slows as Prime Minister Cameron’s cuts work their way through the system. However, the large, narrow cuts will not hinder consumer sentiment and as real savings boost production the economy bounces back in the second half of 2011 to end the year as a growth frontrunner in Europe.
Australia, on the other hand, is struggling with a weakening economy as China steps harder on the brakes to stop inflation from getting out of control. Add to this an Australian property market, which is at best in need of restraint and at worst looks like a bubble ready to burst, and we will see a decline of 25% in AUDGBP.
CRUDE OIL GUSHES BEFORE CORRECTING BY ONE THIRD
Crude oil, now driven by fundamental investor macro expectations, gets carried away, surging to over USD 100 a barrel in early 2011 on the wave of euphoria that the US economy has broken free of the shackles. Unlike 2008, there’s no follow through to drive the spike higher and investors are left holding oil positions they cannot sustain. Crude succumbs to a violent one-third correction lower later in the year.
NATURAL GAS SURGES 50 PERCENT
Natural gas enters 2011 with a supply surplus as the global downturn has resulted in supply exceeding demand for two years – resulting in two years’ of double digit losses. But heading into 2011 the fundamentals for Henry Hub improve dramatically. Increased industrial demand on a US recovery, historical cheapness relative to crude and coal, forward curve flattening and action on proposals to export more US natural gas reserves all combine to make passive investments in gas more profitable. And the icing – an unusually frigid cold snap leads to a rapid depletion of stocks. Henry Hub thus sees a one-in-25 year move up by 50% in 2011.
GOLD POWERS TO USD 1800 AS CURRENCY WARS ESCALATE
The ‘currency wars’ return with a vengeance in 2011, driven by improvement in the US economy rather than a need to help economic recovery. The US trade deficit widens as consumers and governments get their wallets out. As the deficit expands, President Obama’s plan to ‘double exports in five years’ increasingly becomes a pipe dream and incites the ‘man on the street’ to twist the US Congress’s arm to pursue a weaker dollar. Pressure piles on China and as investors flee to metals in search of some stability, gold shoots up to USD 1,800 an ounce.
S&P500 REACHES AN ALL-TIME HIGH
Dr. Bernanke, using his mandate of ‘make sure the stock market keeps going up’, continues to pump liquidity into the system in 2011. Even ‘mom-and-pop’ investors realise the only strategy worth following is to buy the dips. But the tactic actually works for the Fed, even though it’s a house of cards, and the US consumers start to spend as their stock portfolios improve and they forgive their money managers. Corporate America doesn’t buy the euphoria that a healthy share price is a good indicator of health, though, and continues the deleveraging process – margin improvements, a wary approach to spending and managing the balance sheet, refinancing debt at next to zero interest rates, and so on. Next thing you know, it’s a proper recovery and the US benchmark index sees the 2007 peak in the rear-view mirror on its way to 1,600.
RUSSIA’S RTS INDEX REACHES 2500
It’s a perfect storm for Russia’s RTS index in 2011. The next global economic bubble starts to inflate early in the year, sending crude oil above USD 100 a barrel again. The average US investor won’t do anything with his money other than buy the dips on the US stock market, and fans of the Russian stock market realise value in their index at a 1-year forward P/E of 8.6 and price to book ratio of 1.26. The RTS nearly doubles to 2,500 in 2011. The options market says it has a one-in-twelve chance of happening – but the RTS was last up there in mid-2008.
h/t Frode and Arnold