This is a good time of year to sit down and write out some of the changes and major trends you think might occur over the next year that will impact your business. One thing I can almost guarantee is that the year 2001 is going to be vastly different from the year 2000. Consider some of the following highlights:
1) We have new political leadership. The recent election reminds me of a definition of politics I heard years ago: "Politics is the art of taking money from the rich and votes from the poor, under the pretense of protecting each from the other."
What a display November and December were of that definition. Whether you're Democrat or Republican, the first year of the new administration is not likely to bring any major changes. Remember that the key role of a president is not what he can do "good" for the country; it's to try to keep from making any major mistakes.
In that light, Clinton may well go down in history books as one of the best U.S. presidents. He left Alan Greenspan alone to be the major guide of our economic policy.
2) The stock market has peaked and will head lower. This is not a result of the election or the new administration, as many would like to point a finger at. The stock market actually peaked in March of last year. The long bull move in the stock market is over - as much as the bulls will continue to fight it over the coming year. Just as corn and soybeans went lower than expected in 1997 and 1998, the stock market will follow suit.
Those who missed the bull market of the last decade will continue to buy on the way down because prices are cheap. This will add fuel to the fire as the market continues to grind lower.
3) Inflation will remain low as a result of lower stock prices and corporate earnings. A great deal of wealth has been drained from the country in the last 10 months and you'll consequently see a downward trend in non-agricultural real estate in urban and suburban areas and in some of the world's favorite vacation spots.
4) The influx of government funds in agriculture may well decline. As I write this, emergency ag funding, which helped support many producers over the last couple of years, has not been approved. Record dollars flowed into U.S. agriculture last year, and we should not expect that to continue in such magnitude.
5) Fundamental news on grain prices has been negative - but it is also well-known. For the first time I can remember in the last 30 years, the same marketing strategy has basically worked three years in a row. Storing grain has been totally non-economical, as grain prices have bottomed at the end of the marketing year each time.
That will likely not be the case this year. Now that everyone has figured out what has worked the last three years, they will unfortunately try to implement that strategy again this year.
Parting Thoughts: How many times do we see someone make this year's decisions based on what they did right or wrong last year? The year 2001 will likely be another interesting learning experience for many people. Those who missed the bull market in stocks will try to buy all the way down. Those who stored grain for the last three years will likely sell aggressively early this year.
My guess? None of those strategies will work in 2001. This is a new ball game with a new pitcher who has a good curve ball. We're all going to need to concentrate on how to hit the ball this coming year.