Byron Wien is vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners LP. One year ago, he created what he called the Top 10 Surprises for 2010. (Zero Hedge reposted them here this past Jan. 5.) If you don’t know a ton about finance, it’s sometimes hard to know when ZH is being sincere, when it’s being mildly snarky and when it’s being outright ironic, but you didn’t need to be an expert to know that the site’s proprietors were highly skeptical of Wien’s predictions.
As well they should have been, because Wien just whiffed on almost everything. Here were his calls, each followed in
parenetheses italics by my fact-checking from earlier today:
1. The United States economy grows at a stronger than expected 5% real rate during the year and the unemployment level drops below 9%. Exports, inventory building and technology spending lead the way. Standard and Poor’s 500 operating earnings come in above $80.
5% real growth? Numbers aren’t in yet, of course, but even with a better-than-expected 3Q, 4.5% looks like the upper bound of any sane estimate at this point. Unemployment below 9%? No; it’s 9.6%, and a lot of people are going to have to either find jobs or quit looking to bring that number down much. S&P 500 earnings $80+? No.
2. The Federal Reserve decides the economy is strong enough for them to move away from zero interest rate policy. In a series of successive hikes beginning in the second quarter the Federal funds rate reaches 2% by year-end.
Fed funds rate at 2% by year-end? Nope, still bumping along close to zero.
3. Heavy borrowing by the U.S. Treasury and some reluctance by foreign central banks to keep buying notes and bonds drives the yield on the 10-year Treasury above 5.5%. Banks loan more to corporations and individuals and pull away from the carry trade, thereby reducing demand for Treasuries. Obama says, “The suits are finally listening.”
As of this morning the 10-year Treasury was at 3.3%.
4. In a roller coaster year the Standard and Poor’s 500 rallies to 1300 in the first half and then runs out of steam and declines to 1000, ending where it started at 1115.10. Even though the economy is strong and earnings exceed expectations, rising interest rates and full valuations present a problem. Concern about longer term growth and obligations to reduce leverage at both the public and private level unsettle investors.
S&P index right now is a shade over 1255, a few dollars shy of its 52-week high. So, hit 1300? No. Down to 1115.10? Also no.
5. Because it is significantly undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis, the dollar rallies against the yen and the euro. It exceeds 100 on the yen and the euro drops below $1.30 as the long slide of the greenback is interrupted. Longer term prospects remain uncertain.
At no point in the past 52 weeks has the dollar rallied above 100 against the yen and it’s currently at 81.225. Euro drops below $1.30? It did during the summer, but it was back up to $1.3397 this morning. As for longer-term prospects, don’t they always remain uncertain?
6. Japan stands out as the best performing major industrialized market in the world as its currency weakens and its exports improve. Investors focus on the attractive valuations of dozens of medium sized companies in a market selling at one quarter of its 1989 high. The Nikkei 225 rises above 12,000.
Pfft. The 52-week high was 11,408, and the most recent close was 10,228.92.
7. Believing he must be a leader in climate control initiatives, President Obama endorses legislation favorable for nuclear power development. Arguing that going nuclear is essential for the environment, will create jobs and reduce costs, Congress passes bills providing loans and subsidies for new plants, the first since 1979. Coal accounts for about 50% of electrical power generation, and Obama wants to reduce that to 25% by 2020.
Yet again, no. In fairness, Obama does seem to be leaning somewhat in that direction, and philosophically, the new House majority probably favors such a move as well. The question is, will Congressional Republicans approve, or even forcefully support, anything that will allow Obama to claim even a modicum of victory? That remains to be seen, but Congressional GOP behavior during the recent lame-duck session does not give one cause for optimism.
8. The improvement in the U.S. economy energizes the Obama administration. The White House undergoes some reorganization and regains its momentum. In the November Congressional election the Democrats only lose 20 seats, much less than expected.
BWA. There was no improvement in the economy from wage-earners’/consumers’ standpoint, therefore no regained Democratic momentum, and the only reason the Republicans didn’t take back BOTH houses of Congress is that the Republicans nominated some Senate candidates who were so batsh*t insane that even Republicans couldn’t stomach them. Yeah, Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller, I’m talking to you.
9. When it finally passes, financial service legislation, like the health care bill, proves to be softer on the industry than originally feared. There is greater consumer protection, more transparency, tighter restriction of leverage and increased scrutiny of derivatives, but the regulatory changes for investment bankers and hedge funds are not onerous. Trading volume and merger activity increases; financial service stocks become exceptional performers in the U.S. market.
Finreg was softer than feared, but financial performance hasn’t been substantially affected because finreg was never an issue. Demand was. And demand still sucks. Moreover, most of the largest U.S. banks are “profitable” only because the rules are being changed and the goalposts moved to avoid acknowledging what is painfully obvious to those of us who don’t hold BAC stock: any honest accounting system would have found them insolvent.
10. Civil unrest in Iran reaches a crescendo. Ayatollah Khameini pushes out Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in favor of a more public relations adept leader. Economic improvement becomes the key issue and anti-Israel rhetoric subsides. Talks with the U.S. and Europe begin but the country remains a nuclear threat. Pakistan becomes the hot spot in the region because of the weak government there, anti-American sentiment, active terrorist groups and concerns about the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal.
Half-credit. The dissent predicted in Iran hasn’t materialized. The problems predicted in Pakistan have, although so far as we know (and we shouldn’t bet we know everything), things haven’t yet reached a boiling point.
So, to the surprise of pretty much no one not on a bank payroll, Wien’s batting average was .050. In the big leagues, you need a 100 mph fast ball and a curve that can open your beer bottle for you to stick to a roster with an average like that. Speaking of beer bottles, how many did he open before writing this stuff?
And where does this leave the rest of us? The “official” unemployment rate of 9.6% masks a true unemployment rate probably two to three points higher and a U6 rate topping 18%, and yet our government is so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that no one in a responsible position sees this as any kind of problem requiring action, let alone the national emergency that it truly is.
(UPDATE: Slight edits for clarity.)