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Surprises in Store for 2004

3. Facing rising energy prices, the automobile industry's fortunes erode dramatically as the consumer is nonresponsive to further incentives. Ford (F) loses more than $1 billion in the second quarter of the year. William Ford Jr. steps down.

4. With the cost of capital declining to unprecedented low levels, a relatively quick restoration of order in South America and the emergence of an overall calm in Iraq (as President Bush orders more troops in to stabilize that country), merger activity explodes and stock prices follow suit. The world equities markets end the year nearly 30% higher than the May lows and close at about 15% higher than year-end 2003 levels. Financial stocks and, briefly, oil stocks are the principal market leaders, but technology stocks languish throughout the entire year (portability proves to be a nonevent) and end the year slightly lower than at 2003's year end.

Internet stocks prove to be one of the worst performing sectors of the market, after New York Attorney General Spitzer sues eBay (EBAY) and Amazon (AMZN) for nonpayment of state sales taxes.

Despite a widespread belief that housing activity will fall off the cliff, the rise in home prices (fueled by ever-lower mortgage rates) continues apace and begins to resemble the bubble in the Nasdaq of the late 1990s.

5. Beginning at midyear, Genworth Financial, the General Electric spinoff, embarks on a series of high-profile acquisitions (which include CNA Financial (CNA), Fidelity Financial and H&R Block (HRB)), spurring an unprecedented round of industry consolidation in the financial sector.

6. After the minipanic in the markets in the first half, and in response to Genworth Financial's takeover announcements, the following acquisitions are announced and consummated:

  • Merck (MRK) acquires Schering-Plough (SGP).

  • Fidelity acquires Janus (JNS).

  • News Corp. (NWS) and MGM Mirage (MGG) acquire a loss-ridden DreamWorks.

  • J.P. Morgan (JPM) acquires Countrywide Credit.

  • Fifth Third Banks (FITB) acquires National Commerce Financial (NCF).

  • Wachovia (WB) acquires First Tennessee (FTN).

  • GrupoTelevisa (TV) acquires Univision (UVN).

  • Wells Fargo (WFC) acquires Capital One (COF).

  • Tyco (TYC) acquires Toll Brothers (TOL).

  • Citigroup (C) acquires Alliance Capital (AC).

  • Polo Ralph Lauren (RL) is acquired in a leveraged buyout.

  • Nike (NKE) acquires Gap Stores (GPS).
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