New year, new powers
A new year followed by a Day of Atonement is always a good time to reflect on the last 12 months and to contemplate what might be around the corner.
Two years ago at this time was the beginning of what turned out to be the worst financial crisis the world has ever known. The effect of what happened that September has been well documented, and the aftermath has proved to be quite as difficult and traumatic as people expected.
It is, however, quite amazing how resilient people and companies are. Last year turned out to be better in many ways, as everyone tried to respond to the new order and to work out a strategy for themselves and their workforce. This year, thus far, has been very unpredictable - the perceived wisdom was that it was going to be tough. World governments and central banks have done their best and it is now up to businesses, the consumer and the banks to crank up the wheels and start moving together.
As usual there is always the unexpected and few could have predicted that an oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico would turn a reputable, stalwart dividend payer like BP into a day-trading stock, losing its chief executive along the way. Watching Tony Hayward and his chairman slink into the White House to face the US President was surely one of the features of the year. A year ago, Gordon Brown was on the front page every day, and now he is almost invisible. The coalition government has survived its first 100 days, having announced sweeping cuts, tax changes and an October review that wants to see cuts in government departments of over 25 per cent. Child benefit, free travel for the over 60s, changes in pensions - nothing is sacred and even the thought of that review created uncertainty. Three holiday firms have gone bust and Thomas Cook and Tui Travel both announced major falls.
What of the coming year? Corporate activity is running at a high with a number of high profile and contentious bids on the table including the major mining company BHP Billiton, which wants to take over PotashCorp - against its directors wishes. The majority of banks passed the stress tests and the UK banks all made a profit compared to the previous year's vast losses; taxpayers may even see some money back if the government sells or reduces its stake in RBS and Lloyds and bankers are still getting bonuses, even if they cannot have it all in cash.
The strongest factor, however, remains the growth of the new economies. China, India and Brazil continue to power ahead. The Chinese are clearly unstoppable. They will lead the way in this new year and for many new years to come; one can only hope they use their power wisely and carefully.
Elissa Bayer, Director of Private Clients, Charles Stanley