Byron Wien, vice chairman at Blackstone Group, which counts the giant but underfunded New Jersey, Pennsylvania (state and teachers) and Philadelphia pension funds among its clients, is among the most durable of Wall Street seers: he's been running lists of "surprise predictions" since 1994, including his years as Morgan Stanley's Chief Investment Officer.
Tireless Matt Topley at Fortis Wealth in King of Prussia sent me Wien's 2017 prognoses in his daily Topley's Top 10 list of stuff to read. Wien failed to revisit his 2016 calls; in fact he blew them: Wien had Clinton beating Cruz (yo Trump!); U.S. stocks falling (S&P rose 9%); oil cheaper at $30/barrel (more like $50)... He was right about Fed and European developments... He also did poorly on his 2015 headline bets (see link above).
Wien's 2017 predictions are happier than last year's. So let's hope he's less wrong this time. But you might do as well betting against them: given Wein's poor track record, at least for the past couple of years, he may be a Contrary Indicator. Highlights of his Ten Surprises for 2017:
- U.S. growth speeds up: Trump/GOP "combination of tax cuts on corporations and individuals, more constructive trade agreements, dismantling regulation of financial and energy companies, and infrastructure tax incentives pushes the 2017 real growth rate above 3% for the U.S. economy. Productivity improves for the first time since 2014." Also, interest rates (10-year US Treasuries) top 4%.
- S&P "rises to 2500 as investors become convinced the U.S. economy is back on a long-term growth path" and investors ignore the rising federal deficit.
- Cheap imports: Japanese yen, British pound and Euro fall against the U.S. dollar, making life tougher for U.S. exporters (and juicing Japan's long-stagnant economy.) China's currency also falls against the dollar, forcing Trump to "develop a more productive relationship" instead of his threatened trade war.
- Cheap energy: Environmental regulators ease up on U.S. producers, who pump more. So do Iran and Iraq. So the price of benchmark oil stays below $60/barrel.
- "Populism spreads over Europe." Angela Merkel loses Germany's chancellorship in October. Can a Euro breakup be far behind?
- "The Middle East cools down. Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, working with Vladimir Putin, finally negotiate a lasting ceasefire in Syria. ISIS diminishes significantly as a Middle East threat. Bashar al-Assad remains in power."
- The Democrats remain divided and ineffective, raising expectations they'll lose more Senate seats in 2018, when mostly Democratic seats are at risk.
- Trump browbeats more companies into cancelling factory moves abroad. "But he fails to bring jobs back." Here come the robots -
- "Trump's advisors try to restrain his desire to punish" North Korea. And U.S. allies "force" the U.S. to respect the Iran deal.
On Wall Street, there's not much punishment for strategist projections going wrong, so long as client assets are invested separately, by specialized portfolio managers with their own client-tailored sets of goals and excuses. Blackstone manages $360 billion in other people's money, including our funds set aside for teachers, police and other public servants.