Outlook 2016: Time to take stock
The end of the year is the traditional time to take stock of the previous 12 months and to try to anticipate emerging developments.
This year will not go down as representing a key turning point – unless something dramatic happens in the next few weeks. It is not like 2008 which, in investment circles at least, immediately conjures up memories of the onset of the global financial crisis. Nor is it akin to 1989 with its associations with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.
However, there are important trends unfolding which bear closer examination. One of them, examined by me in this Outlook, is the tendency for market liquidity to dry up at times. This phenomenon prompted concern among both market participants and regulators this year and could become more acute in 2016.
Even closer to home, at least for the investment and pensions industry, is the tendency for asset managers and pension funds to enter the traditional turf of banks. This shift is the result of the confluence of several factors. First, banks are often more reluctant to lend as a result of tighter regulatory requirements. Second, there is still a demand for credit from companies. Finally, investors are looking for alternative sources of yield with their traditional instruments, most notably bonds, offering relatively little. Carlo Svaluto-Moreolo unpicks the consequences of these changes for the asset management industry in his article.
This year has also seen drastic price movements among some asset classes. Here we examine both the implications of falling commodity prices – good news for some markets and bad for others – as well as the dramatic realignments among currencies.
Not discussed in this issue, but covered in IPE earlier in the year, are important changes under way in East Asia. These have economic, financial and economic ramifications but their significance tends to be underestimated in Europe.
At the core of these is the tension between China’s rising power and the US trying to hold on to its established position of pre-eminence. From China’s perspective such initiatives as internationalising the renminbi and opening its financial markets are important for both practical and symbolic reasons. Although it is not setting out to antagonise the US, the unintended consequence is to heighten America’s sense of insecurity.
To anyone who takes the trouble to look, it should be clear that the year saw both powers trying to pull other regional players towards them. For example, the leaders of China and Taiwan recently met for the first time in their history, while the US has attempted to engineer a rapprochement between Japan and South Korea. Tensions became particularly acute in October when the US sent a warship to the South China Sea in a direct challenge to Beijing’s territorial claims.
Predictions are always fraught with uncertainty but developments in this region could flare up in the coming years if not in 2016. The world’s attention has focused on other areas in recent years but a near certainty is that this one is growing in importance.
Daniel Ben-Ami, Deputy editor