Last Year It Was Interest Rates, This Year It’s Oil

Think back more than a year ago. At the time, market predictions for the coming year centered around one major theme; interest rates. The consensus opinion was drilled into our heads for months, namely that interest rates would have to rise in 2004, and the housing market would cool off. Some even called for the bursting of the housing bubble, even though there wasn’t a bubble at the time that could be burst. Investment strategists warned their clients to avoid stocks of mortgage lenders and home builders.

Believe it or not, the consensus for 2004 was wrong (okay, this is very believable). Despite the fact that the Fed did start raising their lending rate from 1% to 2%, market rates didn’t budge. In fact, in many cases they actually dropped. Mortgage rates were steady, and bond rates fell. What were some of the best performing stock groups in 2004? You guessed it.. mortgage lenders and housing stocks.

Okay, so that is in the past and just serves to prove that the consensus is usually wrong. With 2005 having just begun, what was everyone saying just before year-end, and how can we bet against it this year? Without a doubt the 2005 theme that received the most airtime was oil. After falling from its peak price of $55 per barrel, oil was hovering in the $40-$42 range at year-end 2004, and most were predicting a drop back to a “more normal” $28-$35 per barrel price tag.

So here we are, on January 18th and oil prices hit $49 this morning, knocking on the door of $50 for the second time in recent months. A move down to the high twenties or low thirties would surely ignite the market a bit, and the airline stocks even more dramatically, but don’t count on it. Oil is to 2005 what interest rates were to 2004.