Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year in Review

More for my reference than anything else, here's a list of what I think are the most significant events of 2015, in no particular order, on the global scale as well as in my own personal life. I like lists.
    • FX and monetary policy
      • currency regime shifts: Switzerland unpegged its Swiss franc (CHF) from the euro (EUR) and China loosens its Chinese yuan (CNY) peg to the USD - free floating currencies are crucial adjustment mechanisms for economies, especially those with diverging prospects and thus divergent policies. Unless the peg is removed (or relaxed), a strong dollar and weak euro means a strong CNY and weak CHF, which isn't always desirable. Global divergences are wreaking havoc on currency markets and central banks are being forced to react.
      • Fed raises rates for the first time in nine years: this is important as it affects the price of virtually everything. We will see 4 rate increases next year if all goes according to plan, which of course it won't.
    • oil collapse continues: from $53 to $37 per barrel and no one's sure if we've even found a bottom yet. In the medium term (1-3 years from now) oil prices will probably be higher than they are today, but in the meantime, we will see a massive transfer in influence, power and wealth from producers to consumers. This throws another dimension of complexity into the geopolitical uncertainties (below), especially for countries like US, Saudi Arabia (de facto leader of OPEC), Iran and Russia as they wrangle in the Middle East.
    • debt crises in Greece (bailout), Puerto Rico (no bailout), Ukraine (restructuring) - these three events actually have very little in common and their individual significance is quite small. However, they may be the forerunners of bigger fish to come (perhaps Brazil?) as global growth mediocrity persists.
    • civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine continue: proxy wars for US/EU/Saudi Arabia vs. Russia/Iran. Part of the picture is ethno-religious, but the bigger part is energy security. Much of the current issues are about securing a direct and convenient geographic link between consumers (EU) and producers (Russia and the Middle East). A Russia-Iran alliance could effectively create a gas cartel; however, Syria/Turkey/Ukraine are (in)conveniently geographically positioned between Russia/Iran and their clients in the EU (and thus the rest of the West). Furthermore, Saudi refusal to cut OPEC production has directly hurt Russia/Iran who are dependent on high oil prices. Resource-dependent countries stake their livelihood on economic access to their trade partners and guaranteeing this access sometimes means crossing sovereign borders, with tanks (or drones) if necessary.
    • international terrorism: Al Qaeda's Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris; ISIS attacks in Beirut and Paris. Now that it is clear that their reach is global rather than merely regional, perhaps we will see a more forceful and coordinated response in the Middle East.
    • domestic terrorism and unrest: Tyrone, Ferguson unrest, Charleston church shooting, Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, San Bernardino. Public opinion on racial and gun issues is reaching a breaking point; however, there is probably very little that policy can do. Gun laws that mainly target new guns/owners aren't exactly useful if there are already millions of unregistered untracked guns. Extreme pessimism here is probably warranted.
    • US foreign policy: thawing of relations with Cuba and Iran alongside a cooling of relations with China and Russia. I'm not sure what the strategy is here.
    • formation of trade blocs as a form of regional protectionism: this year we saw the creation of three disparate regional trade alliances: 1) US/Japan's Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) vs. 2) China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) vs. 3) Russia's Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Trade and protectionism are increasingly being used for political aims rather than purely economic ones.
    • refugee humanitarian crises: compare responses to Syrian migrants from EU/Germany/Turkey/Saudi Arabia/Canada/US. The tensions between expanding welfare states alongside the opening of borders expose modern liberal hypocrisy. This will be a huge source of friction as lack of coordination pushes costs onto other countries (classic case of externalities). 
    • EU rise of radical populist over mainstream centrist parties: Greece (far-left Syriza), Portugal (anti-austerity Socialists), Spain (rise of far-left Podemos and Catalan separatist parties), UK (Cameron renegotiating EU membership terms), France (far-right Le Pen polling first place for 2017 elections). Increasing skepticism about the viability of the Eurozone and to a lesser extent, the European Union, will persist if these populist nationalist parties continue to be elected. It is hard to convince people to buckle down and work hard towards a common good if your neighbors have a different language/culture and your leaders are constantly emphasizing that fact. Even more importantly, it is fundamentally impossible to have a monetary union without a fiscal union.
    • US rise of radical populist over mainstream centrist candidates: rise of Donald Trump (and to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders), resignation of John Boehner. It's not just Europe; it turns out that we're having our own brand of ridiculousness on both sides of the aisle.
    • unusual weather: January nor'easter, California drought, Nepalese and Hindu Kush earthquakes, Texas-Oklahoma-Utah floods and tornadoes, strongest hurricane (Patricia) in the Western Hemisphere on record, El NiƱo - climate change is real. Pretty soon we'll be surfing instead of snowboarding in the Northeast and getting our wine from England instead of France. 
    • science: there's water on Mars. NASA astronaut candidate applications are open - submit yours now. We are almost definitely currently in the midst of an ongoing Holocene mass extinction event - go see the polar bears and pandas at your local zoo asap.
    • signed my first apartment lease: previously, I had only informally sublet from friends
    • went to a lot of breweries, wineries, cideries, meaderies
      • breweries: Threes, Captain Lawrence, Other Half, Long Trail, Drop-In, Otter Creek, Fiddlehead, Magic Hat, Queen City, Zero Gravity, Prohibition Pig, Trapp Family, Napa Smith, Bronx, Allagash, Sly Fox, River Horse, Gun Hill, Vault
      • wineries: Paumanok (eastern LI), Quintessa, Artesa, Saintsbury
      • cideries: Nine Pin, Woodchuck, Woodside (eastern LI)
      • meaderies: Maine Mead Works, Urban Farm Fermentory
    • my first major injury: grade 3 complete tear of my MCL, luckily made a full recovery without surgery thanks to PT. I learned that healthcare advice (like all advice) can differ drastically from practitioner to practitioner. In that sense, they're more like economists than scientists.
    • fitness firsts: sprint triathlon in Staten Island (1/4mi swim, 12mi bike, 5km run in 1:13), NYC century (100mi bike in 12hrs), cyclocross bike race at Sly Fox Brewing, marathon in Honolulu (26.2mi run in 4:32)
    • sports: missed out on indoor soccer, but did kickball (we won our league!), outdoor soccer (scored 2 goals!), participated in the East Coast Spikeball tournament (didn't pass qualifiers, but hopefully will next year)
    • bikecamped to Poughkeepsie (roughly 100mi), camped in Clarence Fahnestock State Park
    • traveling: India (Mumbai, Aurangabad); Amsterdam (albeit only 24hrs); Russia (Moscow, St Petersburg); LA (kayaking/camping in the Channel Islands, my first national park); wedding and wine in Napa; sailing in Baltimore; eating and drinking in Portland (Maine, not Oregon); hiking, roadtrip, surfing, running, paddleboard and scuba in Hawai'i (and hiked Haleakala, my second national park)
One of the most eventful years that I can remember. I can't imagine 2016 (due to reversion to the mean) being more eventful but you never know. Life can surprise you in that way.

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