Blackstone’s Byron Wien’s List of 2018 Surprises Includes a Stock Correction and $80 Oil

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  • The Blackstone executive sees China cutting oil to North Korea
  • ‘Populism, tribalism and anarchy spread around the world’

Assessing the Biggest Risks Facing Markets in 2018

Stock speculation will get ahead of itself in 2018, leading to a short correction for the S&P 500, while oil will vault above $80 as “populism, tribalism and anarchy spread around the world,” according to Byron Wien’s annual list of surprises.

Even with the decline to 2,300, the benchmark gauge for U.S. equities will end the year above 3,000 as profits rise and economic growth approaches 4 percent, wrote Wien, vice chairman in the private wealth solutions group at Blackstone Group. A year ago, the former Morgan Stanley strategist said the S&P 500 would climb 12 percent in 2017. It gained 19 percent.

“The U.S. economy has a better year than 2017, but speculation reaches an extreme,” he wrote in predictions published today. Wien, who’s put out the “surprises” list since 1986, says it’s made up of events that investors assign 1-in-3 odds of happening but that he thinks are more than 50 percent likely.

Most of last year’s crop didn’t come true. He called for 10-year Treasury yields to rise toward 4 percent. Instead, they peaked at 2.6 percent. While he got oil right, saying it would stay below $60 a barrel, his optimism on the dollar’s strength proved misplaced and he misjudged German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chances of winning re-election.

Among his other calls for the coming year: the euro will drop to 1.10 versus the dollar and the yen will hit 120 against the U.S. currency. Interest rates will climb, with U.S. Treasury yields moving toward 4 percent, as inflation becomes a bigger concern and the Federal Reserve tightens four times. Republicans will lose control of both chambers of Congress in November, he predicted.

“Populism, tribalism and anarchy spread around the world,” wrote Wien, 84. “In the United Kingdom Jeremy Corbyn becomes the next prime minister. In spite of repressive action by the Spanish government, Catalonia remains turbulent. Despite the adverse economic consequences of the Brexit vote, the unintended positive consequence is that it brings continental Europe closer together with more economic cooperation and faster growth.”

In China, Wien expects economic growth to slow to 5.5 percent as President Xi Jinping shifts focus to fix the country’s credit problems by limiting business borrowing. He also expects Xi to cut off all fuel and food shipments to force North Korea to suspend its nuclear development program.

Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s resistance, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the talks with Iran will come through, Wien said, adding he expects Trump to press for more bilateral trade deals in Asia.

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