NEWS: 7 JANUARY 2015
THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK FOR 2015
So for New Year I've come to Polzeath in Cornwall for some end of year surfing and of course a party to say goodbye to 2014 and hello to 2015. Whilst I'm here in my Airstream I'm penning this quarter’s commentary desperately trying to find some inspiration and enthusiasm to write something positive about the outlook for the global economy.
Like the quality of the surf so far this last week, global markets have recently been very choppy. There have been no defined parallel and ordered sets on which to carve confidently on the crest of the wave, just a jumbled mass of white water bubbling and boiling into the shore catching out the unsuspecting investor if they are not careful.
Due to a nasty rip current, Britain's top equity index, the FTSE 100, ended the year lower than it began as commodity stocks surrendered early gains and fell sharply during December after a retreat in oil and metals prices. For the first time since 2011, the FTSE 100 ended the year lower at 6566, 200 points off of its January 2014 starting index.
Considering the FTSE flirted with the 6900 level on several occasions over the year, predictions of a year end 7000 level certainly did not look too outrageous.
This year saw the end of US quantitative easing, something that many had worried over but markets took in their stride. The legalities of Russia’s annexation of Crimea will be debated for years to come, a timeline similar to the sanctions the West has imposed on Russia.
The economic picture materialising out of China has seen a continuing cooling of its economy, not down to levels of Western nations but sufficiently low to see commodity stocks do some serious rescaling of their future expectations.
The oil price in the last six months has also collapsed by 50 per cent, as Saudi and OPEC nations play hardball over market share. Early expectations of a showdown between the US and UK in raising rates in 2014 has ended with an unspectacular flat sea and absolutely no moves.
As we look into 2015, the water is muddied by Greek elections that threaten to reignite the Eurozone crisis, while there's no end in sight to the rout in oil prices. The FTSE lagged its peers for most of 2014 and with conditions as they are it will struggle to catch even a two footer in the year ahead.
So is there any good cheer for the New Year? Well, of course there is, like the sea, the global economy ebbs and flows as the wind and tides change and whilst some shores have poor conditions, others have perfect 12 foot rollers on which to ride.
Inflation remains very low due to energy prices and this helps the consumer in the developed World, therefore the UK and US economies are likely to continue to grow, something very evident in property values that have been increasing steadily all year with only December showing a slight slowdown.
With oil prices lower, developing and emerging economies now have a real opportunity to prosper and can take advantage of the sluggish behemoths as they slowly sink under the weight of debt and falling demand, a note of caution here though, this position could be short lived and for some will end in a total wipeout.
The largest economy of all though, will still lead the way as US economic growth is predicted to be a full percentage more than in 2014. The continued recovery in the US means the country's central bank, the Federal Reserve, will probably raise its main interest rate, which has been close to zero for six years.
Stronger economic growth and increasing spending can lead to higher inflation, which can be contained by higher interest rates which would make American markets more attractive to investors, so funds could be pulled out of other countries.
The danger here is, that it might happen in a disruptive way that leads to sharp currency declines, higher inflation and rising borrowing costs for governments and business in developing countries, however the Federal Reserve has said that many emerging economies appear better equipped to handle the Fed's move than they were in past.
So, there is some cheer out there and we should look forward to a positive 2015. It might not be the set that sees us all surfing through the perfect barrel, there will surely be some sackings that lead to a washing machine ride or two, but it's likely to be a reasonable year of growth and progress.
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