For investors, 2006 will start a little late this year -- about six months late, in fact. Sure, we'll flip open a new calendar on Jan. 1. But as common as it is to think that a new investing year starts with the New Year, it's especially important to resist that way of thinking as we head into 2006. Truth is, the big make-or-break events of 2006 -- the ones that will determine how different investing in 2006 is from investing in 2005 -- aren't scheduled to hit the calendar until later in the year. What will determine whether the New Year is a happy one or something much less cheerful depends on the way what I call my Five Big Ifs for 2006 play out.
The likelihood of faster growth -- Europe and Japan are both supposed to show stronger economies in 2006, and that would suck up more exports from China and India -- is about balanced with that of a slowdown, because higher oil prices could cut growth in these energy-dependent but energy-inefficient manufacturing economies. As with projections for the developed world, investors won't know if 2006 will be disappointingly different from projections until well into the year.