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Kass: 20 Surprises for 2009

This blog post originally appeared on RealMoney Silver on Dec. 29 at 8:49 a.m. EST.

"Never make predictions, especially about the future."

-- Casey Stengel

In late December over the past six years, I have taken a page from former Morgan Stanley strategist Byron Wien (now the chief investment strategist at Pequot Capital Management) and prepared a list of possible surprises for the coming year.

These are not intended to be predictions but rather events that have a reasonable chance of occurring despite the general perception that the odds are very long. I call these "possible improbable" events.

The real purpose of this endeavor is to consider positioning a portion of my portfolio in accordance with outlier events, with the potential for large payoffs. After all, the quality of Wall Street research has deteriorated (in some measure because of brokerage industry consolidation) and remains, more than ever, maintenance-oriented, conventional and "groupthink," even despite the mandated reforms over the past several years. Mainstream and consensus expectations are just that, and in most cases they are deeply imbedded into today's stock prices. If I succeed in at least making you think about outlier events, then the exercise has been worthwhile.

Our surprise list for 2008 proved to be our most successful ever, with 60% of last year's "possible improbables" proving to be materially on target. Almost half of the prior year's predicted surprises actually came to pass, up from one-third in 2006 and from 20% in 2005. Nearly of one-half 2004's prognostications proved prescient and about one-third in the first year of our surprises for 2003.

Investing based on some of my outlier events over the past 12 months would have yielded good absolute and relative returns and would have protected investors somewhat from the market's downdraft.

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