The year that was 2015 contained a plethora of surprises for the world of finance to digest.
Shares of the undisputed tech king Apple (AAPL) finished down about 1.3% on the year. The Nasdaq Composite? Up a cool 7.5%. Not many TV-hit-loving stock pundits would have put wagers late in 2014 on Apple lagging the broader tech sector. This came amid the launch of an entirely new product platform in the Apple Watch and the ongoing execution of a massive buyback program.
Apple's stock didn't even manage to get any love for continued outstanding results in China, a country that battled a major stock market swoon in the summer and further growth deceleration for the year as a whole.
Elsewhere, Pfizer (PFE) and Allergan (AGN) are poised to combine following a colossal $160 billion transaction. So much for Obamacare setting the stage for lower drug prices over time. This giant drugmaker deal, caused in part by Obamacare, is likely to rape the pocketbooks of baby boomers and their children for many years.
Newell Rubbermaid (NWL) , purveyor of eponymous plastic bowls and Sharpie magic markers, will be the overseer of Yankee Candles' operations once it completes its buyout of consumer products conglomerate Jarden (JAH) . Oil prices plunged roughly 40% in 2015 even as the U.S. economy allegedly experienced a worthy enough expansion to justify the first post Great Recession interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve.
Donald Trump continues to be the favorite to win the Republican nomination for president. Yes, the same Donald Trump that battled rich, white guy Vince McMahon a few years back in WWE -- the loser (who was McMahon) had to shave his head.
Chipotle (CMG) shares plunged 30% or so, while McDonald's (MCD) shares tacked on 30%. And the Golden Arches ends 2015 with more goodwill around its food quality in America than non-GMO ingredient-serving Chipotle. Crazy.
Looking back, what a year of twists and turns for investors to navigate through. In a world where each day is inherently uncertain, rest assured that there is only one thing that iscertain when gazing into a 2016 crystal ball: like 2015, it will likely be full of surprises.
Here are seven predictions for the New Year that actually make sense:
Warren Buffett Names Berkshire Hathaway CEO Successor
The stage is set for Warren Buffett to announce his successor as CEO at Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) (BRK.B) . The heir to the throne could very well be leaked in the days leading up to Berkshire's annual meeting in late April of 2016. I think it would be an opportune time for Buffett and his successor to make this happen at the annual celebration of all things Berkshire.
The billionaire investor could trot the individual on stage with him and Charlie Munger to field questions from concerned investors (and there will be serious concerns voiced as Buffett steps aside). They could also get in some TV interviews, all serving as a coronation of sorts for the chosen new king of the business world.
Buffett has spent 2015 further solidifying Berkshire's future with the acquisition of Precision Castparts (PCP) and an investment in Kraft Heinz (KHC) . With interest rates on the rise, deals for Buffett are going to become more expensive to finance -- what better way for Buffett than to leave on top in 2016.
Buffett also could spend the early part of his retirement campaigning for Hillary Clinton in her bid to thwart a businessman that in all outward signs, lacks the moral compass of the Oracle of Omaha (ahem, Donald Trump).
Apple Goes Shopping
Apple is fresh off a freakish year of sorts. The stock lost value despite:
- The execution of a massive share buyback plan;
- A solid 11% dividend increase;
- The specter of the company doing more in 2016 in the areas of buybacks and dividend increases; and
- Healthy sales and earnings results. Wall Street questioned future sales growth for the company's most lucrative product -- the iPhone, while panning its newest platform in the Apple Watch.
To alleviate some of the angst on Wall Street, Apple CEO Tim Cook may want to pull a page from the playbook of his friend at Disney (DIS) in CEO Bob Iger (and Apple board member). Cook could admit the minute weak spots in the business, and acquire businesses that could unlock new sources of future growth.
An ideal purchase for Apple would be Tesla (TSLA) , giving Apple exposure not only to critical electric-car engineering but advanced battery technology. Both companies are thieving each other's brainiac employees while putting out the best in class innovations. It's time those cultures are united to create a more-formidable tech powerhouse.
On the other hand, the acquisition of GoPro (GPRO) , as some on Wall Street have tossed about, makes little sense for Apple for two reasons. First, GoPro is seeing fierce new competition in the action camera market, therefore pressuring once hearty profit margins. Second, the company doesn't sell something that is fundamentally transformative in the market as does Tesla. Plus, Apple is arrogant and thinks its camera technology is the best.
Shares of Sears Plunge 50%
The Grim Reaper is walking up to the steps at Sears Holding (SHLD) as we speak. The year ahead will bring major headlines of a looming cash crunch for the storied department store retailer and owner of discounter Kmart.
Sears' balance sheet starting 2016 in horrible shape following a disastrous 2015 holiday season. Sears will be forced by the market to raise cash very quickly in the year to fund inventory for holiday 2016. More real estate will somehow have to be turned quickly into cash by failed CEO Eddie Lampert.
Any outside borrowing will be severely penalizing in terms of interest rates. While Lampert scrambles for the life preserver to save himself from the ship in which he has purposely shot holes, the market will hammer the stock on fears of a bankruptcy filing in 2017.
Shares have lost 37% in 2015. By the end of 2016, the cumulative two-year decline will likely be about 87%.
Global Warming Forces Huddle of Outdoor Apparel Makers
The planet is getting warmer, bottom line. For apparel manufacturers that produce winter coats and snow boots such as Decker's Outdoor (DECK) and Columbia Sportswear (COLM) , winter 2015 has been challenging.
Triple F.A.T. Goose CEO James Chung emphasized the problem. "Like other outerwear companies, a portion of our business has been affected by the warmer weather and need based shoppers -- or people who hold off on purchasing down jackets until cold weather hits," Chung told me via email.
Luckily for the maker of premium outdoor coats it has invested greatly in product innovation to help cushion it from unseasonably warm fall/winter weather.
Chung said the company has improved upon the original Triple F.A.T. Goose quality with performance details such as real coyote fur ruffs, water-repellent fabrics and the like. He said many of the company's customers "are upgrading to this updated, more premium collection -- these types of purchasers don't necessarily consider the immediate weather conditions when buying our products," he said..
Unfortunately, others in the outdoor apparel sector don't have the luxury of selling premium experiences to consumers such as Triple F.A.T. Goose, and are forced to compete on price amid minor tweaks to product designs each year. Those prices tend to become more competitive when weather doesn't cooperate. And weather is unlikely to cooperate in 2016 based on global warming trends.
As a result, consolidation in the outdoor apparel sector could pick up before holiday 2016 as a means to bring down operating costs in the areas of raw materials, research and development and marketing. For instance, Columbia Sportswear may make sense for WolverineWorldwide's (WWW) portfolio, which has limited exposure to the outdoor lifestyle market with its Merrell brand.
Walmart's Stock Has Another Rough Year
The bad run for Walmart's (WMT) stock (-29% in 2015) will continue in 2016 as there is no positive catalyst on the horizon strong enough to excite the investment community. Walmart is poised to have a another year of elevated costs to build out tech infrastructure to compete with hard-charging Amazon, while dealing with a store level workforce that is gaining more leverage on hourly wages and employment practices.
The only potential bullish catalyst for Walmart would be the arrival of an activist investor (very likely) due to continued pressure on the stock resulting from excessive spending on the part of execs.
A robust case by any activist investor could be made to spin-off the lower margin Sam's Club warehouse business or exit certain under-performing international businesses. Bold action have to be taken by Walmart to compensate for bloated investments in tech infrastructure and people. Thus far, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon has failed to take those bold, offsetting actions.
Goldman Sachs Proves Right on Oil Price
Goldman Sach's (GS) call for $20 a barrel oil makes a great deal of sense given the high probability for under-whelming U.S. growth and China's industrial economy continuing to slow in 2016. Oil below $20 a barrel would likely bring national gas prices under $1.50 a gallon, serving as a major boon to low-income America.
Consequently, a dollar store such as Dollar Tree (DLTR) could have a big year due to greater consumer spending power -- especially as it continues to improve the fundamentals of its prized Family Dollar acquisition (how sweet does this deal look in light of Staples (SPLS) continuing to fight with government officials over its bid for Office Depot (HD) .
Keep in mind that oil prices at $20 a barrel would likely equate to another year of major financial stress for the oil and gas sector. Think about headline-grabbing dividend cuts and more layoffs, and pressured tax receipts in the oil drilling states. That stress will likely lead to a flurry of deal activity in the sector by mid-year as companies seek to gain economies of scale.
The Seemingly Unflappable Trump Falters
The Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, is likely to be exposed as weak on national security and other critical areas in his TV debates with Hillary Clinton. It's not a knock on Trump per se, the man just hasn't been through the muddy waters of U.S. government. Having waded through the murk in D.C. is actually pretty important in leading as a president. The American people are likely to see that on full display in 2016, and begin to favor Clinton despite her serious character flaws and years of gaffes in high-profile government positions.
With Clinton gaining the poll position in the lead up to Election Day, look for biotech stocks to come under renewed selling pressure on fears of widespread reform in a Clinton administration.
Just look at the nosedive biotech stocks had to deal with in September because of a Clinton tweet promising to tackle price gouging. A tweet! The sector has still not managed to come back since that tweet -- shares of the SPDR S&P Biotech ETF (XBI) are down about 11% since that comment by Clinton on social media.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at 8 a.m. EST on Real Money on Dec. 31.