It's a winter ritual: Seers, prognosticators and other gurus tell us which stocks to buy for the year ahead, where they think the Dow will close in December and which momentous events will take place.
History teaches us that the majority of these charlatans will be wrong, and the ones who get it right are mostly lucky. If you have been reading my column for any length of time, you know to ignore them.
When it comes to predictions, I do the following: Note down the forecasts made this month and look back at them in a year. Repeat every year. I use my desktop calendar and an e-mail Web service called Followupthen.com to keep me on track. I started doing this almost a decade ago, and I found it terribly liberating. It will be always be instructive, and, as with the class of 2008 forecasters, occasionally hilarious.
Doing this taught me to ignore the forecasts I see or read, as well as to keep the piehole in the middle of my face closed whenever anyone asks me for a forecast. I defer, saying, "I have no idea. No one does." It is fun to watch the TV anchors' heads spin like Linda Blair's in "The Exorcist."
A better use of your time? Discern what's happening here and now. It's been my experience that investors spend so much time worrying about what might come next that they miss what just happened.
To that end, let's look at what's driving the world of finance. Major shifts have already taken place, and if you understand what they are, it will help your financial planning. From my perspective, these are the more significant trends that will probably continue into 2013:
1. ETFs are eating everything.