Five big surprises for 2015

5 January 2015

The price of oil halved during the final six months of 2014. Yes, some experts predicted energy costs would decline from $115 a barrel in June, but how many predicted Brent crude would trade below $55 for the first time in five and a half years so soon after?

And further surprises are inevitable in 2015, as they are in every year. That's why the helpful boffins at UBS have compiled a list of the potential banana skins for the next 12 months.

Aggressive Fed tightening

More rapid US growth, a faster-than-expected decline in unemployment and first signs of wage inflation suggest the Fed may already be 'behind the curve'.A more hawkish Fed could expose market fragilities, above all in credit fixed income (where selling liquidity is already poor) and in emerging debt and currency markets.

ECB disappointment

The overwhelming consensus of market participants expects the European Central Bank (ECB) to launch an aggressive programme of sovereign debt purchases ('QE') in the first quarter of 2015.

The risk, therefore, is that the ECB will disappoint market expectations, leading to setbacks in 'risk assets' and the dollar (owing to large overweight dollar positions in currency markets).

Dollar weakness

The most consensus view/position in markets (which we share) is for a stronger US dollar. An unexpected US slowdown or more rapid growth in Europe/Japan could lead to a sharp reversal of positioning, sending the dollar lower in the world's foreign exchange markets.

Sharp rise in oil prices

Spreading conflict in the Middle East could put at risk oil production and exports (similar to recent developments in Libya), sending oil prices unexpectedly higher. Regional uncertainty could also lift global risk premiums, placing further stresses on financial markets.

A big rally in global equity markets

Alternatively, if the eurozone can avoid deflation and political risk, Japan returns to growth, the US continues to grow without inflation (and the Fed normalises gradually), and China effectively manages its slowdown, global equities could rally on higher business confidence and capital expenditures, stronger M&A and an expansion of price/earnings multiples.

A 20 per cent-plus rally in global equities would constitute a clear surprise to the consensus.

This article was written for our sister website Money Observer

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