Whenever I see one of those “Buy this now for the new year” columns, I diary them in my calendar or use the free Web site Followupthen.com. A year later, I look back at these recommendations and forecasts, and, for the most part, they’re terrible.
Because of this folly of forecasting, I try not to make many predictions. Whenever I am asked where the economy is going, who is going to win that year’s elections or what the markets are going to do, I steal a trick from the weatherman: Always couch your forecasts in probabilities. That way, when I am wrong — and anyone who pretends to know what will happen in the future will frequently be wrong — at least I can declare the outcome was an anticipated probability.
“As we stated last January, there was a 10 percent chance that the Federal Reserve’s Hobbensobbers were going to be trounced by the bond market’s Rebblesacks — and that’s exactly what happened!”
It’s a great cheat to avoid saying silly things in public that could come back to haunt you.
These are my 10 forecasts as to what the forecasters will be forecasting for 2012:
1 Stocks will trounce bonds this year: We heard this one a lot in 2010; it turned out to be wildly wrong. Stocks were flat in 2011, while bonds gained about 13 percent. Indeed, turning conventional wisdom on its head, bonds have outperformed stocks the past one, 10 and 30 years.
Hey, maybe stocks will beat bonds next year. If you keep making the same prediction, eventually it will come true.
2 Housing has bottomed: A perennial favorite from the usual suspects, who have been consistently, insistently and persistently wrong about this since residential real estate peaked in mid-2006. As the most recent Case-Shiller data show, home prices fell another 3 to 4 percent in 2011. From prices that remain too high to an excess of inventory to slow household formation, there are many reasons the bottom has not yet occurred.
3 Election forecasts: In politics, six months is a lifetime. Just look at how often the poll leader has shifted in the Republican nomination race over the past six months. Making a forecast 11 months out about politics is sheer folly. But consider: Lots of people will make forecasts about who will win the primary, what the final tickets will look like, who needs to win which states to gain how many electoral votes. The sheer number of forecasts means that someone will, if only by chance, get it right.