My prediction of the United States financial markets in 2017 is a mix of good news and bad news: When markets are chaotic, there are often large opportunities — and they are usually found in unexpected places.
The biggest change in the coming year is that investing in the United States will not be an obvious choice. Over the last few years, international concerns such as China’s growing debt bubble and the possibility of the demise of the Euro have made investing in America appear attractive in comparison. While these threats have abated somewhat, our political risks have dramatically increased.
Meanwhile, expressed policy priorities of the incoming Trump Administration are creating inflationary expectations, causing U.S. market interest rates to trend higher. Expect these pressures to increase due to an erosion of federal fiscal restraint and if, as suggested, there are trade restrictions put in place between China and the United States (or elsewhere). These factors will create an unwillingness on the part of international investors to purchase U.S. government debt, which will drive our interest rates higher.
Thinking about refinancing your home or taking on long-term debt to finance your business? Do it now. Debt will be significantly more expensive by year end.
The U.S. equity market is harder to predict. Certain businesses are likely to benefit from a lessening of regulation, particularly anti-trust regulation. Look for continued consolidation of market power in media, carbon-based energy, transportation and telecommunications. Businesses that depend on complex value chains are less likely to be happy with trade restrictions. All these factors suggest a stock market that will move sideways at best. However, the nature of these businesses will not be the only relevant factor.
Expected tax cuts for both individuals and corporations will undoubtedly create new liquidity for financial investment. As we saw with the Bush tax cuts, cutting taxes for people and businesses that are already satisfying their consumption with existing cash generally results in these tax cuts becoming financial assets and not spending on consumption of things or services. This means that the effect of tax cuts on the economy will be muted at best, but the impact on financial markets will be large.
Investment patterns over the last 20 years show that as financial assets of the well-off increase, the portion of these assets being managed by financial managers also increases. A result of this flux of new money in the hands of financial managers will be an increase in market volatility. Simply put, the more money being managed to generate short-term returns, the more markets are affected.
Turning to technology innovation, there will be significant business interest in technologies that increase worker efficiency. The incoming administration is shining a bright light on companies opting to shifting jobs overseas, so businesses seeking margin improvement will need to consider technology to lower overall effective labor costs. This will be a very strong driver for start-up innovation in the coming year.
Overall, investing and starting a business in 2017 will be complicated. There will be ample capital available for anyone demonstrating a high-growth opportunity, but capital for run-of-the-mill business expenses will be significantly more expensive. Investing in the stock market will require a strong stomach, and a willingness to take a long-term view.
America asked for a president to shake things up. The financial markets certainly won’t disappoint.
Column originally posted on WashingtonPost.com.