OIL AND GAS INTERESTS. The latter half of 2014 brought falling oil prices and a resulting fall in gasoline prices.
Consumers reaped the benefits at the pump while investors took note of the precipitous drop in crude prices. Looking ahead, oil and gas must find a supply-and-demand footing to avoid similar price volatility.
Wider use of shale extraction, with its high costs, may prove difficult to sustain if prices remain low, which could put some producers in untenable positions. That said, overall opportunities in energy remain, but will likely require patience and strong due diligence. Investors may want to consider the larger picture, where the ripple effects of lower energy prices may benefit other asset classes, such as timberland and farmland, as costs associated with logging, harvesting and transportation should ease.
TIMBERLAND maintains its position as an attractive investment, in our view, with the housing market growing demand and the conversion of land into new uses driving down supply. Additional demand for timber products, such as pulp and biomass energy wood pellets used for heating, has also favorably impacted the market.
In 2015, more investors may capitalize on one of the singular benefits of this asset class: time. Fluctuations in the market typically give investors the option to either act or wait. That is, when market conditions are favorable they can harvest their timber, and when market conditions are adverse they can allow biological growth to continue — as long as needed.
FARM AND RANCH LAND. On farms in 2015, we’re anticipating further stabilization in land prices as well as commodity production and prices.
Buoyed by near-perfect weather conditions, 2014 was a boom year with record-setting crop production for both corn and soybeans. Production and prices should return to trend this year, assuming world supply moves closer to matching demand. Continued population growth and increased per capita income in emerging markets will likely continue to be positive factors in commodity values.
Land prices should present strong buying opportunities, as we expect them to stay stable, a trend that began after the premium bubble prices of 2012 and 2013.
REAL ESTATE in the United States continued on a strong recovery path in 2014. Major indicators of recovery, such as occupancy and value, continued to rebound as the nation’s unemployment dropped and consumer confidence grew.
Continued low interest rates have positively affected recovery in the asset class, with multifamily homes leading the way into new growth. Improvement in that sector is expected to continue in 2015, along with modest improvement in other sectors, such as industrial and office buildings. Recovery results in retail spaces have been less impressive and are predicted to continue to lag.
PRIVATE BUSINESS. Steady growth is expected to be the mantra for 2015 in the private business investment class. Growing credit stability should fuel corporate investment, while improving consumer confidence should boost spending. Last year was an active one for mergers and acquisitions, and that trend should persist this year, both domestically and internationally. Financials, information technology, healthcare and energy also appear well positioned for growth fronts.
In general, 2015 looks bright for business, as most of the right catalysts are present to support continued economic growth. The improvements in liquidity in recent years should provide ample lubrication for investments and transactions. Concerns remain about infrastructure, long-term unemployment and the national debt, but the business cycle as a whole is favorable for continued growth, in our view, despite these real challenges.