x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Not saying I'm right but try me on banks, the euro and August

Focus: Three vital predictions for 2012. 1: Europe will fail to save the euro, again. 2: Goldman Sachs might still be there. 3: Columnists will keep recycling columns.

Towards the end of his life the choleric Kurt Vonnegut became even more curmudgeonly. When asked about being a columnist the American writer replied: "At the height of the Vietnam War, every columnist in the country turned their attention on the White House like a bazooka. It didn't make a blind damn of difference."

These are disheartening words for any columnist. For despite toiling away like Irish navvies through a cutting, we like to think a subtle word from us will shape future policies as surely as Metternich's oleaginous wiles in 19th century Europe.

As I look back over more than 175 columns printed in these pages over the past three-and-a-half years (soon to be published in one slim volume called Musings on the Middle East), unlike Mr Vonnegut I see only success and unbridled influence.

Take an early column I wrote on the future of investment bankers. They were finished, I declared boldly in 2008, but never fear: they could be retrained for a number of uses, including be used as traffic cones on motorways or to help people use BlackBerries.

One might argue that I was ahead of the curve, a prophet without profit if you will, because these pinstriped dandies kept rewarding themselves with socking bonuses.

However, the world has caught up with them. I count it a matter of some solace that the Occupy Wall Street movement that is now sweeping the world like a virus probably had its roots in these pages.

This is not the only instance when I led public opinion to the correct decision. As well as pouring scorn on people who can't add up except when it comes to bonus time, I have been sceptical of Europe's leadership.

Did they have the acumen or nous to deal with the single currency? I thought not, and events have proved me right.

I did not anticipate that David Cameron, the British prime minister, would nip home early from the meeting, but I suspected that Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel would cook up a cunning Franco-German plan that would not convince the markets.

Don't believe me? Here is what I wrote at the end of December 2009: "Next year I suspect we shall be saying farewell to the euro, at least in its present state. Despite its stellar 2009, outmuscling the dollar and reducing sterling almost to parity, my bet is that the euro will fold.

"The Germans have already said they will not bail out the Greeks. Spain has no money, Ireland's bubble has burst, Italy is in turmoil and France is in a poor state. Goodbye euro, and good luck."

One other area that I have led the way is in anticipating that August is no longer a dull month. As I said a few months ago: "Few observers saw it coming, even when the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was bumped off by Gavrilo Princip. The first sign of trouble was a sharp dip in bond prices.

"Shares were hit too. John Maynard Keynes, the economist and policymaker who was a courageous investor who saw nothing wrong with a touch of insider dealing, thought he had the inside steer to the crisis and bought Rio Tinto and Canadian Pacific shares, only to see them tank.

On August 4, 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, said: 'The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time'."

I think my warning prepared those in the financial markets for the struggle ahead. It certainly gave other columnists food for thought, for many of them soon produced something similar in their own pages.

Recycling is much in vogue these days, and there are few better examples of that than weekly columnists.

As I wrote in 2009, recycling is a popular thing. I was rather hoping to recycle a bit of that column here, but somebody has seen fit to wipe it off the Web, so you'll have to wait for the book.

Have no fear, there are other examples of my prescience. Take this from 2009: "Goldman Sachs: It may look mightier than ever, having weathered the sub-prime storm, been bailed out by the US taxpayer and paid him back, but the days of the super-smart bank are numbered."

Whether these choice words spooked the market one cannot be sure, but there is no doubt that the super-smart bankers are no longer looking so smug.

There are many similar examples scattered throughout these past three years, words and advice that will doubtless propel my tome to the top of The New York Times bestseller list.

As we all know, forecasting is a dangerous game. The key is to predict regularly, so here is my take on what will happen next year: Europe will fail to save the euro, again. Goldman Sachs might still be there. Columnists will keep recycling columns.