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Seventeen Unhedged Predictions for ’17

At the head of a new year, we speculate on what lies ahead economically, politically, and even globally.

  • Kip McDaniel

To offer easily disproven predictions would seem an act of columnist suicide.

It’s not.

Just ask Charles Krauthammer or any other perennially wrong opinion maker: Making wildly incorrect claims about the future has absolutely no impact on one’s job prospects.

It’s with that in mind that I point to my unhedged predictions from 2015.

Twelve months ago, I correctly called some things: “The economy will continue to do what it’s been doing: Grow steadily, if not swiftly”; “at least one major hedge fund will turn itself into a family office”; “The great American pension-risk transfer tidal wave will not occur this year, either.” And I was disastrously wrong about others, e.g. “Hillary Clinton will win the White House.”

But as with Mr. Krauthammer, being wrong doesn’t mean I don’t get to try again. Thus, my unhedged institutional investing predictions for 2017:

1) The ‘passive or bust’ narrative will hit an institutional wall. There are too many barriers – the requirement for high portfolio returns regardless of what the market provides, the equating of active with intelligence and thus career advancement – for a wholesale shift towards passive investing. Never mind that passive investing doesn’t actually work without active participants...

2) That said, Vanguard will win the sales war for the fourth year running.

3) Alternative fees won’t change in any substantial way except for the smartest of allocators. Those asset managers who earn the pay will continue to receive it, and those who don’t will continue to benefit from the perverse investing logic that pay equates to skill, and not vice versa.

4) Anthony Scaramucci will both advise Donald Trump on financial regulation and host the largest SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) conference in its nine-year history.

5) He will be lambasted in the press for this. He will, in turn, lambast the press.

6) Linked to the above, the implementation of the fiduciary rule will be delayed – or simply not enforced by the Department of Labor under new Secretary Andrew Puzder.

7) Taking a page from the new President, at least one prominent hedge fund billionaire will be revealed to have stopped paying his business’ bills.

8) American tax reform will not happen in any serious way, leaving in place the capital gains preference. Not that it would impoverish those who take advantage of it – far from it, in many cases.

9) There will be no actual US-China trade war in 2017. However, President Trump will claim on Twitter that one has occurred, and he has won it.

10) Asset management M&A activity will accelerate. There are too many regional firms looking with envy at deals such as Janus-Henderson to not see at least three blockbuster mergers in the coming year between US and non-US firms.

11) While not a merger, the TA Associates rejuvenation of Russell Investments will be touted as an incipient success. Word on the street is that the private equity owner’s changes are starting to improve Russell’s margins.

12) Asset allocators’ technology budgets, long far below their rational level considering the importance of monitoring and managing risk and return, will remain far below their rational level.

13) We will continue to see turnover at American endowments and foundations as oversight committees fail to grasp that CIOs can only position the portfolio optimally, not garner returns from thin air. I predict at least two CIOs of top-20 E&Fs will depart for “family reasons.” This is not unrelated to #12 – governance is at the root of both problems.

14) The London Collective Investment Vehicle (CIV) will enter the pension discussion elsewhere, including in America. It will be met with heavy political resistance from entrenched interests.

15) Call me crazy (or optimistic), but we haven’t seen the end of the Brexit decision. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, along with European leaders, will find a way to claim victory while changing little about the current UK-EU relationship – because it’s in all their interests to do so.

16) Given my abysmal 2016 record – I incorrectly called both the Brexit and American presidential election – I hesitate to weigh in here, but Marine Le Pen will not become the French president in 2017.

17) There will be no American recession in 2017. That will come in 2018. Which poses a political problem for Donald Trump and the Republicans: The earlier the recession, the easier it will be to blame it on Barack Obama and the Democrats.

Think I’m wildly off base or extremely prescient? Let me know either way, at kip.mcdaniel@institutionalinvestor.com.