Why you should care
Because some of this stuff will happen and some of it probably won’t, but you need to know about it just in case.
For a year that saw so much social and political controversy, 2017 was a strangely bumper year in the world of business and finance.
Twelve months ago, Wall Street analysts were bullishly predicting that the Standard & Poor’s 500 index would hit somewhere in the range of 2,300 to 2,400 — roughly a 5 percent rise for the year — and many raised their eyebrows at bankers’ confidence. In reality? The stock market topped 2,650 and is around 20 percent higher today than it was a year ago. The United States’ gross domestic product growth has been ticking over at a commendable 3 percent or so, and the usually lagging eurozone is doing even better. With the exception of Venezuela, pretty much every economy in the world grew in 2017 and is expected to continue doing so this year.
So what’s next?
The Markets: Keep It Comin’, Baby!
Wall Street is looking bullish and, once again, the rest of the world is raising an eyebrow. The financiers doubtlessly will be proven right. Analysts at several major firms, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Oppenheimer, have set S&P 500 targets for 2018 at a staggering 3,000, as nervous murmurings of overvalued stocks have been put to rest after the successful passage of a major U.S. tax reform bill that’s set to boost corporate profits. The biggest risk to market health is geopolitics, according to 40 percent of respondents to a recent survey of investors carried out by Barclays — and other than a trade war with China or a nuclear war with North Korea, one such political black swan could arise from the midterm elections in November.
That said, the #MeToo movement is bound to have an impact on banking eventually. Several women, including prominent investor Sallie Krawcheck, have recently described experiences of sexual harassment spanning decades, and it’s only a matter of time before Wall Street goes the way of Silicon Valley, Hollywood and D.C.
Cryptocurrency: Bye-Bye, Bitcoin
Here’s wishing that someone had predicted for us last year what would happen to bitcoin in 2017, because in 12 short months, its price has increased more than twentyfold as regulators have slowly opened up to the idea of having crypto assets listed on formal exchanges (though there was a major price correction toward the end of the year). But as the market will become increasingly populated by professional institutional investors rather than just computer geeks and quick-buck hunters, there’s only one inevitability: It will, at some point, crash.
JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has likened the craze to the classic tulip-mania asset bubble in the 17th century. “What’s driving a lot of this is fear of missing out,” says Jackson Palmer, founder of Dogecoin, one of the world’s largest cryptocurrencies. “It’s gonna hurt a lot of average people … when this whole bubble pops,” warns Palmer. Our prediction? Bitcoin will peak at $30,000 this year after the currency is listed on several major futures exchanges and crypto funds appear in major markets, but the currency will crash back to less than $5,000 before returning to five digits by the end of 2018.
Big Business: I-P-No, Not Yet
Investors have been waiting with bated breath for a chance to cash in on the new economy, but so many of Silicon Valley’s golden companies — the so-called unicorns valued privately at over $1 billion, such as Uber, Dropbox and Spotify — have so far refused to go public. “You had all the ingredients for a healthy IPO market” in 2017, says Bob Blee, head of corporate finance at Silicon Valley Bank, but “it didn’t materialize as we expected.” And that’s not set to change this year either, argues Blee. The “megarounds” of private fundraising from massively rich institutional investors are likely to continue to keep CEOs content for now, he says.
Look out for a handful of big-ticket market entries — many are pegging accommodation platform Airbnb and ride-sharing app Lyft as probable 2018 IPOs. Likely the biggest IPO in history, that of Saudi state oil giant Aramco, may still be in the cards for this year too — but remember that hopes of big-name market entries have been dashed many times before. One wild way that could happen again this year? With vast sums of cash potentially set to be repatriated under the new tax bill, megarich tech giants such as Google parent company Alphabet could swoop in at the last minute to acquire a pre-IPO giant like Lyft. It’s highly unlikely, but it would be hugely entertaining: Lyft could vault past rival Uber with an even crazier valuation (though people would still no doubt continue to use the phrase “I’m going to call an Uber,” giving the branding experts at Google a taste of their own medicine).