Ten Surprises for 2024

by Brian Broberg | January 5, 2024

Byron Wien just passed away at 90 years of age. He was a fixture on Wall Street and ended his career as vice chairman of The Blackstone Group. He worked almost to the day he died. I mention him because every year since 1986 he published “Ten Surprises” to look for in the coming year. His definition of a surprise is an event that the average professional investor would assign a one third chance of taking place, but which he believed had a 50% or better chance of happening. The goal is not simply to be contrarian, or even to get a high score. Instead, he aimed to stretch his own thinking and that of his readers. Since no one is writing these surprises anymore, I thought I’d unilaterally assume the mantle—with the same goals and criteria.

Below are my top Ten Surprises for 2024. Please note that these are not predictions. And my goal is neither to be “right,” prescient, nor a seer. These are simply things of a geopolitical, geo-economic, market, and/or a military nature that may astonish us in 2024. I am offering them because they have implications for the markets and how we think about economic circumstances. Again, no predictions, just surprises that are worth our consideration. Of course, it is fair to say that you will see political events discussed here. Since this is not a forum for my personal politics, I will only share what I think are reasonable political outcomes (elections, for example). I am attempting only analysis and explaining what each surprise means for each of us. Afterall, we all know that political factors are an important part of the economic picture, so they can’t be ignored. Then, at the end of the year, I’ll evaluate each one of these items and write a new set for each year thereafter.

In terms of the format, my goal is to state the surprise with a brief justification. Each of these justifications could be an article in themselves, so it may take some further research on your part, if you are so inclined. A comprehensive treatment of each would take a book. 😊

I wrote the first five Surprises the week before Christmas, and the rest before the New Year. Here goes.


  1. Vladimir Putin will continue fighting the war with Ukraine, especially since his opponent has made no real progress in its latest offensive and is getting weaker in terms of manpower. From Putin’s perspective, as long as Ukraine is making no progress and depleting its forces, it leads to victory. Western resolve in helping Ukraine eventually will wane. What is the surprise? Despite hopes and comments to the contrary, there will be no negotiated peace in 2024.
  2. Surprise! The United States is already at war in the Middle East. Recently, the Houthi Rebels in Yemen, who are backed in some ways by Iran, are attacking international shipping that travels through the Red Sea. This trade route represents 30% of all containers being transported throughout the globe. Since these attacks will cause operators to avoid this route, it will ultimately lead to rising costs and lagging delivery times for the supply chain. This means it could have a dramatic impact on inflation in Europe and, to a lesser extent, for America. This means the American public must be prepared for the United States Navy to lead an outright attack and destruction of Houthi command and control, radar targeting, missile, and drone sites within Yemeni territory early in 2024. Besides, the real point is to ensure that other would-be copycats or bad actors are deterred from adding to the chaos in the region. To make their intentions known, the United States has moved one of its largest aircraft carriers, the USS Eisenhower, from the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden, just off the shores of Yemen. This is a powerful signal to the Houthi Rebels to cease and desist. Some will characterize this move as a “widening of the war” and they will be right. But the United States will characterize it by “protecting international sea lanes.” Of course, this is a distinction without a difference, but it does allow some political cover during an election year.
  3. China likely falls into a deeper recession than the one they’re in now. Check out any large company index of the Chinese stock market for the last 20 years, and it is obvious that they are not doing well. Most of Chinese consumer wealth is found in real estate. That bubble burst and now they are in deep “Chow Mein.” The situation in the Red Sea caused by the Houthi Rebels does not help Chinese trade in terms of getting their goods to the European market. This causes a further slowdown for them, if not rectified.
  4. China’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” which seeks to spread tentacles of control around the globe, masked as friendly trade relations, is being questioned by countries who are discovering that China’s government is untrustworthy. Among other goals, the BRI has accommodated China’s quest to control/own port facilities around the world. A few years ago, Italy ceded control of its two largest ports to China, in exchange for loans to improve the port facilities. Recently Georgia Maloni, who was elected as the Italian Prime Minister in October 2022, saw what was really happening and essentially flipped up a backhand and shouted, “Arrivederci!” She broke the deal. This is a net-negative for China and compounds their economic troubles. To China’s surprise, expect more countries to follow Italy’s lead in 2024.

Influences and Elections

  1. Globally, there is a nascent turn by voters who demand more freedoms from their country’s leadership. In late December 2023, Javier Milei was elected president of Argentina. He is a self-described libertarian and capitalist. His election is a sea change for a Latin American country. As it turns out, voters in South and Central America want liberty, not merely a change in politics or politicians. Expect movement in this direction in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil elections this year.
  2. In the United States, neither party’s current front runner will get a majority of the popular vote. Most voters, including Democrats, think the incumbent is too old. A large percentage of voters of both parties are angered, triggered, or both by the former president’s rhetoric and style. Both factors mean that a large number of votes will go to a third party. There are some challengers that are pursuing this option. Among others, Robert Kennedy, Jr. has thrown his hat in the ring. In addition, the “No Labels” political organization is attempting to get Senators Joe Manchin and Mitt Romney to team-up for an independent candidacy. Both of these camps will siphon a large cross-section of disaffected voters from the two primary parties. It will be an unprecedented outcome for independents, and that is the surprise. That said, the popular vote doesn’t matter. As we all know, it is the Electoral College that decides the outcome. So, who has the edge? It’s too early to tell. But see Surprise #7 for more factors.
  3. European elections will influence the outcome of American elections, just as they did in 2016. Shortly after the British voted to exit (Brexit) the European Union, Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Some say that’s a coincidence. Also, in 2016 and 2020, a Dutch parliamentarian was calling for “Nexit”—a Netherlands exit from the EU. This politician, Geert Wilders, led the Nexit vote and gained traction, but no decision. Fast forward to today and guess who has a likely shot at becoming the Dutch Prime Minister. It will be astonishing, but Wilders will be elected early in 2024. This combined with the Italian Prime Minister, mentioned in Surprise #4, and Marine Le Pen’s run in France, one can see movement afoot that will be a harbinger for US election outcomes. The common links are open borders, non-assimilated immigration, and the recent rise in antisemitism. European elections presage a success in the Electoral College for a candidate who walks this tightrope well.

Markets and Economy

  1. Technology innovations and further development of artificial intelligence will continue to improve productivity, which will help keep inflation in check. (China’s current deflationary trajectory will also contribute to disinflationary pressure in the West.) These coupled with international businesses moving more production to US shores and pressure on Washington to reduce deficit spending will put more productive capital into the hands of businesses and consumers. After adjusting and recovering from the COVID shutdowns and ensuing economic crisis, and because inflation will be tamed in 2024, the United States is poised to ignite what will be dubbed, “The Roaring ‘20s, Part II.” (This assumes Surprise #9 occurs.)
  2. Assuming a military coalition does not allow the Houthi Rebels to continue to put a stranglehold on global shipping, then inflation will continue to decline and reach the Federal Reserve’s target of 2%. The Fed has already stated that they will lower interest rates in 2024. The surprise will be how much and when. Wall Street is pricing in four to six cuts starting in the spring. The Fed says three cuts. The surprise is two cuts starting in the second half of the year, primarily because of uncertainty in the Middle East, but specifically because of the temporary rising costs of shipping.
  3. The markets may consolidate (move sideways, correct, or both) in early 2024, especially if markets get concerned about movement of goods and services through the Suez Canal, Red Sea, and the Bab El-Mandeb Strait. But there is still going to be concern over the parabolic nature of the markets move higher since late October. That by itself could cause a “pause that refreshes.” Given these concerns, a slight recession early in the year would be no surprise. By the end of 2024, however, these early apprehensions won’t matter. The US and other countries will have stopped the threat to global trade by stopping Houthi attacks on shipping, the Fed will have started their rate decreases, and these together will become an important tailwind for global markets. The big surprise could be no recession in the US, followed by higher stock and bond prices by next Christmas.

Well, there’s your Ten Surprises for 2024. I welcome your comments, questions, and critiques.

Happy New Year!