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The Six Biggest Surprises of 2006

Editor's Note: Jon D. Markman writes a weekly column for CNBC on MSN Money that is republished here on . He's also a regular contributor to RealMoney ,'s subscription site. If you'd like to see all of Jon Markman's RealMoney commentary, click here for information about a free trial.

If you thought Mother Nature was a crazy ol' lady this year, you ain't seen nothin' yet. By the time 2006 is done, the term "weather volatility" will replace "global warming" as the primary catchword of fearful investors, environmentalists and politicians.

While hurricanes are likely to return in force as a threat to Gulf of Mexico residents and energy producers in 2006, volcanoes will be the new hurricanes; South America will become the new Middle East; Google (GOOG - Get Report) will boggle; Canadian gas shale will become the new oil sands; the dollar will droop; and defense will be the new offense.

If you don't believe it, step with me into my time machine, where we can get a sneak peek at the six news events that will most surprise investors in the coming year.


Wind will stir up nearly as much trouble in 2006 as it did this year as a long-term cycle of heightened cyclone activity in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea intensifies. Count on six major hurricanes with winds over 120 mph in 2006, with three making high-impact landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast and impairing efforts by seaside dwellers and oil-platform owners to rebuild from this year's storms.

Major oil-services companies, such as Schlumberger (SLB - Get Report), will benefit, as will smaller and much more obscure players, such as Allis-Chalmers (ALY). For clean-up work, keep in mind the post-Katrina 100% advance of Home Solutions of America (HOM).

Gringo, Go Home

In 2005, we got a taste of the new tide of anticapitalist fervor gripping South America governments from the flamboyant President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. He imposed retroactive taxes on foreign oil companies, threatened the nationalization of U.S. shareholders' assets and wrapped his socialist message in an anti-American flag.

In the past several decades, the U.S. became accustomed to dealing dismissively with hemispheric neighbors, such as Nicaragua and El Salvador, because they had scant resources or trade to offer. But the raging global demand for oil, copper, nickel, tin, bauxite and grain has shifted the balance of power slightly south. Now, when we really need Venezuelan petroleum and Bolivian base metals, new leaders with treasuries fattened by Chinese commodity buyers are giving us the cold shoulder.
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