A bumpy year ahead

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It's a busy time for clairvoyants. I've been having a look at some of the predictions for 2015, and thought I'd save you the effort of doing likewise, by offering up a few themes.

The new year looks bumpy, in economic and political terms. While the American economy is not badly placed for a good run, few others can say the same.

China has slowed. India faces difficult choices this year if it's to speed up. Russia's in all sorts of bother, with a nasty habit of sharing its troubles with neighbours. Another to watch could be Nigeria - Africa's biggest economy, oil dependent, facing elections and in a mess.

Deflation is already a significant threat in the eurozone, making the European Central Bank and its boss, Mario Draghi, a likely newsmaker for 2015. There will be knock-on impact for UK exporters and the UK economy.

But as a net importer of oil, the European Union may be in the majority of economies that benefit from the sharp cut in oil prices. This is being likened to a big tax cut, meaning money released from energy bills can be spent elsewhere.

Crude calculations

The impact on Scotland will be mixed. Those paying for oil - the transport sector among them - will benefit. But obviously, it's not good for Aberdeen and the north-east if offshore contractors pay is already being cut, and investment projects will likely be shelved.

Scotland's oil and gas economy has been very important to sustaining employment and economic activity through recent tough years. This year may see it as more of a drag on performance.

Will the oil price continue to decline? The consensus seems to be: yes. In new year trading, Brent crude dipped below $56 per barrel, lower than half the level it was at in June. Few would be surprised if it fell below $50.

But those who know about the oil market (rather than those of us who gaze into a crystal ball to find something to do at this time of year) reckon a first quarter low will be followed by adjustments to supply and demand into the second quarter, meaning that prices could rise.

What matters is not the actual price, but the cost of uncertainty and risk, the industry's expectations of whether this is going to last, and the average price of Brent crude over a longer period. Those figures are the decisive ones for investment projects.

Retail tumult

That's one of the dynamic sectors worth noting. Retail is another. Tesco's new chief executive is soon to unveil his plans for a turnaround of the beleaguered supermarket giant.

It's tried to match the upstart discounters on price. It now has to "right-size" its store portfolio and land bank.

And it's just one of those struggling to chart a way through tumultuous times on the high street. Some foresee chains shedding large numbers of outlets, and others going under because they can't sustain the recent level of discounting.

Of course, the tumult is largely being caused by all that activity online, and even more so by mobile shopping.

Technology dominates the predictions for each new year, as we can already see what is slated for product launches. This year sees much talk of smart watches - though also warnings of hype about wearables.

In retail, the Next Big Thing will be the use of location, location and also location to tempt mobile shoppers into stores and to steer them around shopping districts and malls.

The demise of City Link brings into focus the need to get distribution right, with Click and Collect (from a convenient convenience store) a candidate for getting more of a push in place of doorstep delivery.

TV stream

Also linked to the disruptive power of technology is the future of television. When I saw what you can do with a selfie stick, I realised this has potential beyond narcissism.

It's just one of the ways that TV can be made more cheaply. And unless the Civil Aviation Authority clamps down, camera-by-drone will become a standard part of the news viewing fare.

A new perspective on the market for TV shows it getting even more of a shake-up. The way people view television is shifting to streamed services on-demand rather than dictated by channel schedulers.

The BBC has been a leader in this, through developing iPlayer. What that means for the corporation's future provision will be one of the factors in determining the terms and conditions on its next charter. Whoever controls Westminster after the May election will be closely involved.

For commercial broadcasters, the shift in viewing habits will drive a shift in advertising too. Reaching people through a 30-second advert is getting tougher, so the broadcast companies are having to get smarter.

And in order to avoid people switching off their satellite and cable subscriptions - known in the US as 'cord-cutting' - Sky, BT, Virgin Media face a tough fight to retain customers with live events and sport, as well as bundled telecom offerings.

Strange bedfellows

The bumpiness of politics this year will revolve around the 7 May elections to Westminster.

Futuristic hovercraft Image copyright Thinkstock

To political buffs, it looks harder to call than ever. To business, it brings uncertainty about the future direction of economic policy and of Britain's place in or out of the European Union.

And to business in Scotland, it adds to another year when constitutional change will dominate. The outcome of the Smith Commission could see business taking a much higher profile on tax powers than it did in last year's referendum campaign.

With support for Conservative or Labour polling, on some occasions, lower than the combined support for the smaller parties, the LibDems, the Scottish National Party or UKIP are seen as potential kingmakers.

But an eye-catching thought from the Financial Times, in its new year predictions, is for a national government of Conservative and Labour - driven into a very uncomfortable alliance by the demands of smaller parties being too much for either of them to bear.

All that plus a fad for trendy toast bars. And 21 October 2015 is the day to which the film 'Back to the Future 2' travelled forward, featuring a hoverboard. Yes, this will be a big year for predictions.

Remember: none of the above is original thought. Most of it will be wrong. Probably.

And in case I forgot to mention it, I hope it's not too late to wish you a happy new year.

In the latest edition of Radio Scotland's Business Scotland programme, David Henderson is joined by a panel of leading business women to look ahead to 2015. Listen to the programme here.

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