Forecasting the world in 2018
By Financial Times writers
By Financial Times writers
I have therefore retired in disgrace from the prognostication game. John Authers takes over as our S&P 500 psychic this year. We also thought Venezuela would manage to avoid debt default. It did not (although its government and some bondholders are pretending otherwise).
We also had too much faith in Donald Trump: we thought he would build at least some of that big, beautiful wall on the Mexican border. But all we got was some small, unattractive prototypes.
Overall, the FT got 15 out of 19 questions right (the 20th question, about North Korea, was too hard to call as a "yes" or "no" so the judges tossed it out). This is not nearly as prescient as our reader forecasting contest winner, Katalin Halmai of Leuven, Belgium, who scored a cool 18 of 19. She needed the tiebreaker question to edge out our runner-up, Hamish Vance of Washington DC. Congrats Katalin — for at least one year, you were smarter than the entire FT. Please try to avoid winning next year. That would be hard for us to take.
Financial Times Forecasts 2018: More political disruption to come in the US
Will Theresa May remain prime minister in 2018?
Yes. Mrs May lost most of her authority with the bungled snap election. But the past few months have been kinder. Sealing a Brexit divorce deal has ensured short-term job security. So until Brexit is formally complete in 2019, or an appealing alternative emerges, the Conservative party will keep her where she is. Remainers and Leavers alike wish to avoid a civil war that would be sparked by moving against her. What was thought to be an unsustainable position is proving surprisingly sustainable.
Will the UK economy be the slowest-growing in the G7?
No. This is possible, of course, but with luck, Mrs May has at least now ensured that the UK is not going to tumble over a "no deal" cliff in 2019. In December 2017, Consensus Forecasts' prediction for the UK was of 1.5 per cent growth in 2018. Its forecasts for Japan and Italy were even lower, at 1.3 per cent. So the chances that the UK will have the slowest-growing economy in the G7 next year should be around one in four.
Will Emmanuel Macron secure a commitment from German chancellor Angela Merkel on a eurozone budget?
No. Ms Merkel may accept a small Eurozone investment fund, but it will fall short of the French president's ambitions. Mr Macron wants a "road map" to a budget equivalent to several percentage points of Eurozone output, supervised by a finance minister, all to absorb economic shocks. Ms Merkel is inclined to acquiesce, but she has emerged politically weakened from federal elections and will be unable to impose such a decision on her largely sceptical public.
Will the Democrats take back the majority in the midterm election in the US House of Representatives?
Yes - by an eyelash. Democrats will need to win an additional 24 seats, meaning they will have to hold on to all 12 Democratic districts that Mr Trump won last year and pick up the 23 Republican districts that voted for Hillary Clinton, plus one or two more for good measure. The math is not on the Democrats' side, but history is. The president's party almost always loses some House seats in the midterms, and sometimes loses big, especially when the president has an approval rating below 50 per cent. See Barack Obama in 2010.
Will impeachment proceedings begin against Donald Trump?
Yes - just. Democrats will regain control of the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections. Though they will not take charge until January 2019, they will waste no time preparing the House Judiciary paperwork. Mr Trump will label it a "witch hunt". But another year of his surreal presidency makes it all but inevitable Democrats will campaign on a pledge to hold him to account. Whatever Robert Mueller's investigation unearths before then is unlikely to turn enough Republicans against him.
Will Trump trigger a trade war with China?
Yes. In 2018 President Trump will deliver on some of his protectionist campaign rhetoric by taking punitive actions against China. The most likely triggers for action will be official reports that the Trump administration has commissioned into China's alleged theft of intellectual property, and its subsidised production of steel and aluminium. The president, spurred on by his trade team, is likely to order retaliatory measures, including tariffs. Whether that marks the first shot in a trade war will depend on how China reacts. A Chinese decision to impose retaliatory tariffs, or to take America to the World Trade Organization, will signal the opening of hostilities.
Will China's reported gross domestic product growth surpass 6.5 per cent?
Yes, even if real GDP growth does not. Speculation over the true GDP growth rate in China, as opposed to the official one, has spawned a cottage industry of specialist economists. The official figures are deceptively stable and serene thanks to suspected “smoothing” by the Chinese authorities, as they bend the figures to fit growth targets. So even if growth does stumble in 2018, the official growth rate is almost certain to come in above the preordained 6.5 per cent.
Will the BoJ tighten monetary policy?
No. The Bank of Japan's life will get tougher in 2018 as the US Federal Reserve tightens policy and widens the interest rate gap with Japan. But governor Haruhiko Kuroda is determined to hike rates in response to one thing only: inflation. The BoJ may let the yield curve climb a little if prices start to accelerate, but real interest rates in Japan will end 2018 no higher than at the start of the year.
Will emerging market GDP growth pass 5 per cent?
Yes. With the US Federal Reserve likely to raise interest rates a few times in 2018, trading is likely to be choppy in emerging markets. Sometimes it may feel a bit like a rerun of the 2013 "taper tantrum". However, average GDP growth will rise to 5 per cent, up from a forecast 4.7 per cent this year. This will mostly be because Russia and Brazil, which have stumbled, will bounce back.
Will Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi try any more unorthodox economic experiments?
Yes. Mr Modi's overnight ban on using high-value bank notes was a big shock, and seriously disrupted the economy. But it delivered rich political rewards, bolstering the premier's image as a decisive leader willing to take tough action against corruption. With the next general elections due in 2019, Mr Modi will be tempted to deliver one more big bang to dazzle voters. Watch out for dramatic action against wealthy individuals holding properties in others’ names to hide their ownership.
Will the Saudi Aramco public offering debut on an international market?
No. What has been billed as the largest ever IPO is a cornerstone of de facto leader Mohammed bin Salman's grand economic restructuring, so it must happen. Shares in Aramco will be quoted on the local stock exchange. The international element of the IPO is unlikely to be a public listing, however. Donald Trump has lobbied for New York, and London is pulling all the stops. Hong Kong and Tokyo are also under consideration. But the Saudis will opt instead for a private sale, or choose to list internationally later than anticipated.
Will José Antonio Meade be the next president of Mexico?
Yes. Mr Meade is the candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. His main rival is the hard leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a passionate orator who can work a crowd. Mr Meade has a lot to overcome: he will have to convince voters that they can trust him, after he put up petrol prices by 20 per cent overnight in January, triggering a surge in inflation. He will also have to reveal himself as his own man, not just a clone of an unpopular government that has failed spectacularly to rein in rampant corruption and crime. But backed by the formidable PRI get-out-the-vote machine, he could prove unstoppable. In Mexico’s one-round-only system, 30 per cent of the vote might be enough.
Will Zimbabwe's new leader hold - and win - fair elections?
No. Having ended Robert Mugabe's 37-year rule - with a little help from the army — Emmerson Mnangagwa has promised free elections in 2018. That raises one problem: he could lose. He must at least pretend elections are fair because he needs donor money to help turn the economy around. That would mean electoral reforms, which risk a loss for his unpopular Zanu-PF. Even if Mr Mnangagwa were prepared to roll the electoral dice, it is not clear the army is. Having got their man in, Zimbabwe’s generals are unlikely to allow the public to kick him out.
Will the AT&T/Time Warner merger go through without big remedies (such as the sale of CNN)?
Yes. The government hasn't won a vertical merger case in decades. According to the Department of Justice's own review guidelines, "vertical mergers" between content owners like Time Warner and distributors like AT&T are much less worrisome than horizontal ones. Meanwhile, the Fang companies - Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google - now dominate the digital entertainment landscape, which makes the government’s argument that the merger of two old-media firms would fundamentally alter competition even harder to make.
Will Tesla produce more than 250,000 Model 3s?
No. The much-hyped US electric carmaker once promised to make 400,000 of its new dream machines in 2018. Its latest production targets imply 200,000-300,000. But serious glitches in battery production have meant a slow start, and Tesla's record is not good. With Tesla yet to show it can wean itself off constant infusions of Wall Street cash, 2018 cold be a make or break year.
Will the S&P 500 finish the year above 2,650?
Yes. There are plenty of positives: earnings, economic growth, and US tax cuts. But they are already known. Stocks look ridiculously expensive by historical standards, but that tells us nothing about short-term moves. Ultimately, it comes down to liquidity, which has driven markets since they emerged from the crisis in 2009. If all goes according to plan, central banks will be decreasing their balance sheets, and removing liquidity, by the end of 2018. If they go through with this, the odds are that the S&P will stall. But even a tiny tremor could make the bankers blink. Expect the momentum to continue.
Will the 10-year Treasury yield finish the year above 3 per cent?
No. Wall Street strategists' predicting that the US government’s 10-year borrowing costs will climb above the 3 per cent mark in the coming year is as much a staple of the Christmas period as awkward office parties. This year the forecasts look more likely to be fulfilled, given a withdrawal of quantitative easing and the US tax cut. However, the seismic, secular forces pinning down both inflation and long-term bond yields remain in place and are still underestimated. The Federal Reserve will raise interest rates at least three times in 2018, but the 10-year yield will not breach 3 per cent.
Will oil finish 2018 above $70 a barrel?
Yes. Supply outages and geopolitical risk factors will probably persist, alongside output curbs by global producers. But whether prices can maintain levels at $70 or above is dependent on the willingness of Russia to keep backing a Saudi Arabia-led effort to cut production in the face of growing US shale supply. Other participants in the co-ordinated effort also need to sustain strong compliance with the deal, the incentive of which declines as governments reap the rewards of higher prices.
Will a stable and liquid bitcoin futures market develop?
No. One way it could play out: after a tentative start involving lots of trading stops, bitcoin futures will slowly begin to attract institutional money. Commodity Futures Trading Commission positioning data will reflect the extraordinary long bias that exists for the product among money managers. As the huge cost of rolling futures positions becomes self-evident, longs will complain ever more loudly about routine divergences around settlement time. Just as a senate hearing is being scheduled to investigate potential manipulation of the market, futures prices will fall below spot, initiating a sell-off.
Will a nation other than Brazil, Germany or Spain win the World Cup?
No. Football punditry is a mug's game. Better to have the benefit of hindsight. There have been 20 previous World Cups. Of those, Brazil (five titles) and Germany (four), are regular contenders. Home advantage helps, with host nations winning the trophy six times. But next year’s festival of football is being held in Russia, which has the lowest-ranked team in the tournament.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017
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