There's a lot of uncertainty in the marketplace, which both poses challenges and provides opportunity for investors. But if we can correctly predict how a market will play out and who the winners will be, the potential to make money on the stock market is incredible.
As we look into 2015, we asked three of our contributors to highlight what they would like to see in the year ahead that may change their investing thesis.
Travis Hoium (more 200+ mile range electric vehicles): If electric vehicles are ever going to become mainstream, there needs to be a big advancement in driving range available to consumers. Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) has a Model S that will go nearly 300 miles, but outside of that, most EVs only go 50-100 miles on a full charge. That's not a recipe for upending conventional vehicles, especially against $2 gasoline.
2015 won't see high-range vehicles being launched because it takes years to develop a vehicle. But we need to see concept vehicles and product announcements that exceed 200 miles and even go as far as stretching to 400 miles. General Motors (NYSE:GM) has taken the first stab at the long-range market, recently announcing a 200+ mile range Chevy Bolt. Conventional automakers have had some success in the EV market, highlighted by the fact that the Nissan's Leaf, not the Model S, is actually the best-selling EV in the U.S. It would be a good sign if GM and other automakers commit to this market.
Another company to watch is BMW, who stormed into the EV market this year with the all-electric i3 and the hybrid EV sports car the i8. The i3 was built with a carbon fiber frame, saving weight and introducing a technology that could improve weight and efficiency in future vehicles. What BMW has to do next is commit to the EV market by building a high-range EV to compete with the Model S and future Model 3. If anyone can do it, it's BMW.
We don't know who else will step up in EVs, if anyone, but the industry won't grow rapidly if 50 miles is all an EV is going to go. If range increases to 200 miles or more, then the discussion will change, and I'm hoping to see more long-range EVs in 2015.
Jason Hall (Recovery in steel industry): It's time for the American steel industry to turn the corner. Even as the economy has improved, a slow recovery in commercial and industrial construction, and overseas competition -- some of which the industry claims is illegal -- has kept American steelmakers from turning the corner.
The result? The industry has been a terrible investment, while the rest of the stock market has rebounded:
The U.S. Commerce Department has implemented import tariffs in an effort to address illegal dumping and unfair pricing practices, but according to the American Steel and Iron Institute, imports still hold 30% of the U.S. market.
Domestic steelmakers Nucor (NYSE:NUE) and Steel Dynamics (NASDAQ:STLD) are great operators, but oversupply is keeping them from shining. Nucor -- the industry's best operator -- reported utilization rates are well below 80% of capacity, a number that an Ernst and Young report says should be closer to 85% for the industry.
There have been some improvements over the past year, but global capacity remains beyond demand. The only two things that will change this are increased demand -- hard to predict with a weak Europe and slowing Chinese growth -- or reduced manufacturing capacity.
Eventually something will give, but until then, it's going to be tough going in the steel business.
John Rosevear (Where is GM?): I'd like to see General Motors have a year where it can finally show us where it's at.
A year ago, GM had a new CEO, and its future finally looked bright -- but Mary Barra was just a few weeks into her tenure when a recall scandal erupted. That scandal dented GM's 2014 profits in a big way, and it also made it hard for investors and car shoppers to see that the General actually has a pretty good thing going.
GM's newest models are light-years beyond what it was making just a few years ago. Models like the Chevy Impala and Cadillac CTS sedans and the new midsize Chevy Colorado pickup are racking up awards and winning tough comparison tests. They're terrific cars -- and they're hitting the market just as GM's business is finally starting to come together, too.
GM has finally learned its lesson on profit-robbing discounts. Better-quality products mean it can be more restrained with incentives, and that has pushed its profit margins in North America sharply higher. A massive effort to boost its old Cadillac brand is gaining traction and should pay off big in time. Meanwhile, it's adding profitable crossover SUVs to its strong-selling lineup in China, and sweeping organizational changes (and again, better products) have its money-losing European operation on track to a profit in 2016.
It's still fashionable in some quarters to beat on GM because of its 2009 bailout, and because of last year's recall mess that brought back tough memories of Bad Old General Motors. But under Barra's leadership, the company itself has moved far beyond those bad old days, and as a GM shareholder, what I wish for it in 2015 is a fair chance to show the world what it can do -- and, to be fair, where there's still more work to be done.