I love this time of the year. Cable sports networks are filled with highlights of the best plays, the best players, the best games, the best fights, and all of the other "bests" of the year. Not having cable myself, I find that going home for the holidays means catching up on all the stuff I didn't get to watch at my place.

Likewise, financial pundits start making their way to the nearest media outlet to not only look back at the past year but also to make predictions for the year to come. When will the Fed stop raising rates? Will the housing bubble burst? Where will the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq end 2006? Which companies will merge? Which ones will go bankrupt? Which five funds should you put your money into? The predictions never end.

While it's all good fun, it really doesn't amount to a hill of beans for individual investors. Take a look at Forbes' "Sneak Peek 2006," and you'll find more than 20 analysts making predictions about everything from the congressional elections to new services offered by luxury hotels. Some of them say the housing bubble will burst, others say it will continue rolling, and others think it will just slow down or go flat. Who will prove to be right? Only time will tell.

Despite my having just said that such predictions don't amount to a hill of beans, I feel compelled to share mine with you all here:

Prediction No. 1: If you live in a "hot" housing market, 2006 will be the year that the real estate bubble begins to deflate. Being a renter in the white-hot market of Oakland, Calif., I've made this prediction to anyone who would listen for four years in a row. I've been wrong four times in a row, but I'm sure that rising interest rates will make the difference in 2006, and I am sure I will finally be right. In short, I will not be buying a house or stocks in homebuilders like Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL), Meritage Homes (NYSE:MTH), or Hovnanian Enterprises (NYSE:HOV).

Better yet, instead of relying on my prediction, run the numbers based on your personal situation. The Fool's Personal Finance section offers dozens of home buying calculators. To find out if you live in a potentially overpriced market, you can check out the "Am I better off renting?" calculator.

Prediction No. 2: Energy and commodity markets will continue to offer some of the best investment opportunities. Oil will remain above $50 per barrel, and the American public will continue to complain about gas prices. I've given my reasons for being bullish on oil here, here, and here. My exclusive top picks for 2006? Forest Oil (NYSE:FST) and Transocean (NYSE:RIG).

Prediction No. 3: My technology pick for 2006 is Plantronics (NYSE:PLT). The huge growth driver going forward is Skype, which was purchased by Stock Advisor pick eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) earlier this year. The Skype program has been downloaded to more than 220 million computers, and downloads are increasing by almost 1 million per day. The service allows people to make calls, even international calls, over the Internet for free. I don't know how eBay will make money, but I know the service is great and that it works a lot better with a headset.

By the end of 2006, we'll know which predictions were right and which were wrong. I can't predict the future any better than anyone else. In other words, this is a time of year particularly filled with financial chatter that should be ignored.

The kind of year-ahead analysis that has value, however, takes into account company-specific valuation, growth prospects, competition, and financial condition. For example, I think Plantronics really is worth taking a look at because of potential growth from Skype and other voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) programs, which are growing rapidly. I also think there might be decent value in current prices near their two-year low and a trailing P/E multiple of 16. What I haven't looked at is the competition, whether margins are increasing or decreasing, and whether the company engages in shareholder-friendly policies.

For the best that the Fool offers in year-ahead predictions, check out Stocks 2006. Instead of guessing at the next big thing, 10 of the Fool's best analysts have picked stocks with superior prospects not only for 2006 but for the years ahead as well. These selections are based on the actual business conditions and valuations of these companies, not the kind of flippant "facts" that run rampant on Wall Street. Over the past two years (ending mid-November), the Fool's Stocks 2003 selections have returned 118.5%, beating the S&P 500's 43.9% performance by almost 75%.

Look further into the Fool's crystal ball:

eBay is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation.

Robert Aronen owns shares of Transocean. He also predicts that the Minnesota Vikings will go 10-6 and lose in the first round of the playoffs this year, next year, and every year for the rest of the century. Please feel free to share your comments with him at robertaronen@yahoo.com. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.