Everybody wants to know what the future holds in store, and investors are no exception.
Thankfully, you don't have to wear a goofy hat, carry a magic staff, or wear a beard long enough to trip over to stay one step ahead of the equity markets. A crystal ball is available to each and every one of you, provided you know where to look.
Throughout this global financial crisis, the world's bellwether industries have been trying to communicate with you. In late 2008, when the world was gripped by a fearsome notion that even China's breakneck growth rate would be derailed, China's Baosteel Group moved ahead brazenly with the construction of an $8.8 billion steel mill, and Korean steelmaker POSCO (NYSE: PKX ) heralded Pan-Asian regional strength with a 76% surge in its capital spending allocation for 2009.
Since that time, the decoupling phenomenon between developed Western economies and emerging Pan-Asian economies has been fully confirmed, and POSCO's latest announcements point to a continuation of that disparity in 2010. POSCO's net profit for the fourth quarter beat the previous year's result by 77%, while full-year 2009 earnings came in 29% below the company's impressive performance in 2008. Forecasting both stronger sales and higher steel prices, POSCO expects to fare even better in 2010.
Confirming its confidence in that outlook, POSCO unveiled an $8.3 billion investment plan for 2010 that may include several of the following transformative actions:
- Acquiring a majority stake in energy trading and development firm Daewoo International.
- Bidding for Korean shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering.
- Buying a minority stake in Western Australian iron ore mine Roy Hill.
- Closing the purchase of Thai stainless steel producer Thainox.
- Bidding for Daewoo Engineering & Construction.
POSCO previously bid for Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (DSME) in a failed auction attempt in August 2008. As bulk shippers such as Diana Shipping (NYSE: DSX ) and Navios Maritime Holdings (NYSE: NM ) braced for the tumultuous impacts of a global oversupply of cargo vessels, POSCO sought to shift Daewoo's operational focus to build more deepwater drilling rigs for rig-hungry operators such as Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) and Petrobras (NYSE: PBR ) . With persistent weakness in new vessel orders, that earlier strategic plan may just remain intact.
Fools who are listening intently to the bellwethers already know that Asian demand for products such as coking coal and iron ore are poised to continue into strength, resulting in bullish expectations for producers such as Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) and BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) . Unfortunately, all signs from the U.S. economy point to a very different set of circumstances, leading this Fool to essentially repeat his forecast from the previous year for continued decoupling. I see a growing dichotomy between sustained Pan-Asian industrial-led growth, and a much-hyped recovery in the West that turns out to be little more than a mirage.
Now that you know how I have interpreted the evidence arising from the world's bellwether industrial companies, it's time for you to share your own outlook by voting in our Motley Poll and sharing your comments below.