2015: rates rose, oil collapsed, pensions were revolutionised – what’s next?

Sometimes, when you get to the end of a year and look back, it feels like there’s been some sort of resolution. Like the big stories of the year have been brought to some sort of satisfying conclusion.

Other times, like in 2008, years end on cliffhangers. Will the global economy collapse? Will the entire banking system end up being nationalized? Stay tuned.

This year, 2015, doesn’t feel like either of those. It feels more like the first act in a long saga. The scene has been set. The characters have been introduced. There have been hints of the conflicts to come.

But we’ll have to wait until 2016 to see exactly how the plot unfolds…

2015 – what a year it’s been

It’s been quite a year.

The oil price has collapsed. So have commodity prices. There are hints of trouble in the junk bond market.

Meanwhile, after much humming and hawing, the Federal Reserve has finally raised interest rates.

Over here in the UK, we saw a pensions revolution of quite extraordinary proportions. George Osborne took it upon himself to shoot down the buy-to-let market. The Bank of England said it has no plans to raise rates, but we’ll see how long that survives, now that the Fed has changed its mind.

And of course, David Cameron is currently trying to prime everyone for a referendum on EU membership next summer. We’ll see if that materialises – on current form, it’s certainly hard to believe that he’ll come back with a true renegotiation of our relationship with Europe before then.

As far as investing goes, will 2016 be the year that commodities make a comeback? There’s probably a good bit of pain to come. But we certainly think it’s a good time to start sniffing around in the sector – my colleague Alex Williams has been writing a lot about that in recent months and we’ll be doing a lot more of it in the year ahead.

And how will the junk-bond scare play out next year – particularly if we see a wave of defaults at the same time as the Fed is trying to raise interest rates? That could get very messy indeed.

These are just some of the big questions that the events of 2015 have raised, and I suspect we’ll get at least some of the answers in 2016. Overall, I suspect it’s going to be one of the tougher years for markets that we’ve seen since the 2008 crisis.

In any case, I sat down with Dan Denning over at Capital & Conflict earlier this week for a good chat about the year gone by. We both agreed that by far the biggest story of 2015 has been the collapse in the oil price.

You can listen to us discussing it – and the potential implications for everything else – on the MoneyWeek podcast here.

Real-life lunar lander and the commercialisation of space

For all the concerns about the financial system and over-inflated markets, there are still some very positive things going on in the “real” world.

One very exciting story this week could end up being a very big deal in the long run. Readers of a certain age might remember a computer game called “Lunar Lander”, where you had to use your keyboard to manoeuvre a spaceship onto a planet’s surface without destroying it. Not easy.

Well, Elon Musk – boss of SpaceX – managed it in real life this week. The company launched a rocket into space, dropped off a few satellites, and then made a smooth landing back on earth. Obviously it’s not the first time a space vehicle has made it back to earth, but as the Wall Street Journal put it, “the gentle landing… marked the first time any large rocket has managed a controlled recovery after delivering a payload into orbit”.

It might sound geeky, but in the long run, reusable rockets would be “a game changer for the space industry”. They’ll make the whole business cheaper and, in turn, render “space accessible to an array of companies and researchers that currently can’t afford to get into orbit”.

We’ve written about the space industry in MoneyWeek before, but we’ll be following it up again next year.

This is the last “official” Money Morning of 2015, but we have a bit of a treat for you over the Christmas period.

My colleague Farah Nayeri has interviewed various MoneyWeek contributors, including Merryn and Bill, to get the inside view on how they came to be doing what they’re doing, and how their backgrounds have shaped their thoughts on the economy, investing and everything else that goes with it.

All next week we’ll be running those interviews – I hope you enjoy them. Send your thoughts to editor@moneyweek.com and we’ll review them in the New Year.

And if you still haven’t subscribed to MoneyWeek magazine, now is the ideal time to do so. I know the idea of New Year’s resolutions is a bit of cliché, but I still make them – I find this is the ideal time of year to catch my breath and reflect and collect my thoughts for the year ahead. If we have similar schedules (I realise not all of you have time off at this time of year) then maybe you do the same. If you want to get your finances into order and working harder for you – well, now’s the time to sign up.

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