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Kass: 15 Surprises for 2012

Dueling Annual Surprise Lists: Kass vs. Wien

By means of background and for those new to Real Money Pro, nine years ago, I set out and prepared a list of possible surprises for the coming year, taking a page out of the estimable Byron Wien's playbook, who originally delivered his list while chief investment strategist at Morgan Stanley (MS - Get Report) then Pequot Capital Management and now at Blackstone (BX - Get Report).

Every year I, and many others, look forward to Byron "Brontosaurus Rex" Wien's annual compilation (hat tip to "Squawk Box's" Joe Kernen for giving him the moniker).

Byron has had a remarkable (and almost uncanny) record of his surprises becoming realities ever since he started his exercise back in 1986. His picks in 2009 were particularly accurate, but his surprises for 2010 were considered by some to be off the mark.

Here is Byron Wien's surprise list for 2011. The tone of almost all of Byron's 2011 surprises was diametrically opposed to my list -- namely, his list was rooted in optimism, while my list was rooted in pessimism. Where I saw slowing and sluggish economic growth, a weak housing market, a European recession by year-end and a lackluster stock market, Byron saw improving prospects. His principal surprises for the economy, interest rates, housing, the eurozone's debt crisis and the housing markets were off the mark in 2011. (Byron is an honest guy, so he would be the first to admit this.)

Specifically, Bryon expected U.S. real GDP growth of close to 5% (real U.S. GDP over the past 12 months saw only a 1.8% growth rate), a 5% yield on the 10-year U.S. note (which now stands at 2.03%, but, hey, I got that one wrong, too!), a year-end S&P 500 close near 1500 (now at 1265), a sharp recovery in housing starts to 600,000 and a rise in the Case-Shiller Home Price Index, and a quiescent and non-market-disruptive European debt situation. He was very correct on the price of gold (where I was far off base) and on benign inflationary pressures.

Lessons Learned Over the Years

"I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown."

-- Woody Allen

There are five core lessons I have learned over the course of my investing career that form the foundation of my annual surprise lists:

  1. how wrong conventional wisdom can consistently be;
  2. that uncertainty will persist;
  3. to expect the unexpected;
  4. that the occurrence of Black Swan events are growing in frequency; and
  5. with rapidly changing conditions, investors can't change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust our sails (and our portfolios) in an attempt to reach our destination of good investment returns.

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