2017: the only certainty is uncertainty – Harvey Jones

2017

If 2016 was a year of shocks and surprises, the only certainty about 2017 is that we can expect plenty more of the same.

A bumpy ride seems inevitable with a reality TV star known as The Donald preparing to lead the free world from Friday 20 January.

Prime Minister Theresa May is also set to take the UK onto a journey into the unknown when she triggers Article 50 to begin the process of quitting the EU before the end of March.

Trouble in store
The European project faces a similarly precarious year, with anti-EU populists jostling to overturn the existing order in the Netherlands, France and Germany. Terror attacks or a fresh refugee crisis at the wrong time could even sink the single currency.

The Middle East is a perennial basket of uncertainty but other regions could also spring a global shock, especially if the Chinese credit and property bubbles finally burst. Vladimir Putin will doubtless have more tricks up his sleeve.

The question is what impact this will all have on stock markets? The answer, after this remarkable year, is that nobody knows.

Shock doctrine
Brexit was supposed to trigger a stock market and property meltdown, but the FTSE 100 is menacing its all-time high and house prices continue to clim – at least for now.

Trump’s victory was also expected to wreak share price havoc but instead the Dow nudged 20,000 as investors toasted his proposed $1 trillion reflation blitz.

We cannot rely on such contrarian reactions dominating investor thinking next year.

The FTSE 100, Dow and S&P 500 are trading around their record highs and may prove ripe for a fall.

The Santa rally could end up in a New Year hangover – remember January’s market rout?

And while there were sound reasons for investors to celebrate the pound’s fall and Trump’s reflationary hype, there will be little free market cheer in, say, a trade war with China, or a President Marine Le Pen.

Nobody knows
Here are two assumptions that could quickly come unstuck: that oil prices and global interest rates will rise.

The US Federal Reserve is lining up three more rates hikes in 2017, but it signalled four this year and delivered just one, and then only at the last minute.

The Bank of England will hold off as long as it can, given Brexit uncertainty. So will the European Central Bank and Japan.

The oil price rose spiked after the OPEC and non-OPEC cuts but it is already falling as US shale drilling activity picks up and crude inventories rise.

Nothing seems to go the way analysts expect these days: few would have expected the FTSE 100 to end this turbulent year nearly 12% higher, given January’s meltdown, Brexit and Trump.

The 30-year bond bubble has failed to burst yet again, despite constant warnings.

Let’s hope that investors remain similarly resilient in 2017. Happy New Year!

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