David Prosser: Sorry to break up the party, but...

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The Independent Online

Outlook Nobody likes a party pooper, but the list of reasons to fear a setback in 2011 is just as long, if not longer. The recovery is not yet secure and may prove much more sluggish than official forecasts suggest. If so, any company with exposure to the consumer, frontline or otherwise, will struggle. The markets have priced in a glass-half-full picture of recovery, and will take a less impressive bounce back, let alone a double dip, very badly. Even more threatening is the fear of another crisis. Anyone who thinks the eurozone has put its problems behind it is in for a rude awakening in the new year. Nor is the banking sector, under increasing pressure to simultaneously repay state support and improve capital funding, in the clear.

What else might spook markets? Well, if China's inflation rises faster than expected, a tough policy response would reverberate globally. Commodity price inflation is a worry too, with oil's rise back above $90 raising costs once more. Watch out also for any signal from the US that the Federal Reserve begins to pare back on its stimulus programme – a withdrawal from that phase of policy is a likely turning point for markets.

Stock markets and economies rarely run in tandem, and the former's response to any given event or theme is usually exaggerated. During an upswing for the markets like the one we are in right now the gamble is that companies deliver the performance that their share prices imply is expected through earnings and dividend growth. Those that disappoint will be punished.

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