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With the year winding down, let's pause for a few minutes to take stock of the lessons that it has taught us, and what they mean for our finances. Here are my key takeaways from 2015.

We're in a slow growth world. The year began with expectations that global economic growth would gain momentum as we finally began to shake off the effects of the Great Recession. That never happened. Instead, we were subjected to a drumbeat of scaled back forecasts as one international organization after another cut its outlook. For example, last March the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projected a global growth rate of 4 per cent for this year. By November, that had been dialled back to 2.9 per cent due to a sharp downturn in emerging economies and world trade. That's well below the long-term average and "a source of uncertainty for near-term prospects," the OECD said.

Low interest rates are here to stay. For the past few years, it has been an article of faith that interest rates were poised to rise. They may be in the U.S. but here in Canada low interest rates are going to stick around for the foreseeable future, perhaps into 2017 according to some economists. The Bank of Canada began 2015 with a surprise interest rate cut, then cut again in mid-year. At its final setting of the year last Wednesday, the Bank held the line, citing weakness in the resource sector and disappointing business investment. None of that will change any time soon.

The oil price war isn't over. Make no mistake about it. What we're seeing in the oil sector is a global trade war and Canada is caught in the middle. It's not a war of our making but we're paying a heavy price for it. The protagonists are Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, who are determined to regain market share by forcing marginal producers such as U.S. shale oil companies out of business. There are indications they have had some success but the fight is far from over. Despite the losses to their own treasuries and pleas from other OPEC members to cut production, it appears the Saudis and their allies intend to keep pumping cheap oil for as long as it takes to bring the competition to heel. At last week OPEC meeting, they stubbornly resisted all entreaties to ease back on their output. The world is paying a big economic price for this war of attrition; an estimated $625-billion in cancelled investments and about 250,000 jobs lost.

Bond yields can go lower. Economists have been predicting the demise of the bond market for years. Yields can't go any lower, they argue. Well, guess what? They can and they have, to the point where they are now in negative territory in some European countries. The European Central Bank now has a deposit rate of -0.3 per cent and that looks generous compared to some of the alternatives from countries like Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that almost €620-billion in Eurozone bonds now yield less than -0.2 per cent. That means institutes and investors are willing to pay a price to put their money in what they regard as safe haven securities. Could it happen in North America? At this point, don't rule out anything.

The loonie isn't going to recover. After seeing our dollar trade at a premium to the greenback for so long, it was a shock to many Canadians to watch it drop below parity in 2012. As it turned out, that was only the beginning. The loonie is now below 75 cents (U.S.) and there is probably more downside to come with the U.S. poised to raise the federal funds rate later this month. The Bank of Canada seems quite content to let it happen, citing the improvement of exports in exchange-rate sensitive categories in last week's statement.

Unfortunately, there is nothing very positive in any of my 2015 takeaways. The best that can be said is that we did not experience an economic meltdown and that we are still on a growth track, albeit a very modest one. Perhaps 2016 will bring some upside surprises.

Gordon Pape is Editor and Publisher of the Internet Wealth Builder and Income Investor newsletters.

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