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8 really, really scary predictions

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  • 8 really, really scary predictions

    8 really, really scary predictions

    Dow 4,000. Food shortages. A bubble in Treasury notes. Fortune spoke to eight of the market's sharpest thinkers and what they had to say about the future is frightening.

    Nouriel Roubini
    Known as Dr. Doom, the NYU economics professor saw the mortgage-related meltdown coming.

    We are in the middle of a very severe recession that's going to continue through all of 2009 - the worst U.S. recession in the past 50 years. It's the bursting of a huge leveraged-up credit bubble. There's no going back, and there is no bottom to it. It was excessive in everything from subprime to prime, from credit cards to student loans, from corporate bonds to muni bonds. You name it. And it's all reversing right now in a very, very massive way. At this point it's not just a U.S. recession. All of the advanced economies are at the beginning of a hard landing. And emerging markets, beginning with China, are in a severe slowdown. So we're having a global recession and it's becoming worse.

    Things are going to be awful for everyday people. U.S. GDP growth is going to be negative through the end of 2009. And the recovery in 2010 and 2011, if there is one, is going to be so weak - with a growth rate of 1% to 1.5% - that it's going to feel like a recession. I see the unemployment rate peaking at around 9% by 2010. The value of homes has already fallen 25%. In my view, home prices are going to fall by another 15% before bottoming out in 2010.

    For the next 12 months I would stay away from risky assets. I would stay away from the stock market. I would stay away from commodities. I would stay away from credit, both high-yield and high-grade. I would stay in cash or cashlike instruments such as short-term or longer-term government bonds. It's better to stay in things with low returns rather than to lose 50% of your wealth. You should preserve capital. It'll be hard and challenging enough. I wish I could be more cheerful, but I was right a year ago, and I think I'll be right this year too.

    Bill Gross
    The founder of bond giant Pimco warned of a subprime contagion back in July 2007.

    While 2008 will probably be best known as the year that global stock markets had their values cut in half, it was really much, much more. It was a year in which every major asset class - stocks, real estate, commodities, even high-yield bonds - suffered significant double-digit percentage losses, resulting in the destruction of over $30 trillion of paper wealth. To blame this on subprime mortgages alone would be to dismiss an era of leveraging that encompassed derivative structures of all types, embodying a belief that economic growth was always and everywhere a certainty and that asset prices never go down. As 2008 nears its conclusion, we as an investor nation have been forced to face a new reality. Wall Street and Main Street are fearful that a recession may be replaced by a near depression.

    The outcome essentially depends on the ability of the Obama administration to rejuvenate capitalism's "animal spirits" by substituting the benevolent fist of government for the now invisible hand of Adam Smith. Federal spending and guarantees in the trillions of dollars will be required to fill the gap created by the deleveraging of private balance sheets. In turn, lenders and investors alike must begin to assume risk as opposed to stuffing money in modern-day investment mattresses. The process will take time. Twelve months of the Obama Nation will not be sufficient to heal the damage of a half-century's excessive leverage. The downsizing of private risk positions - replaced by government credit - will also result in reduced profit margins and a slower rate of earnings growth after the bottom is reached.

    Investors need to recognize these titanic shifts in market and public policies and be content with single-digit returns in future years. Perhaps the most lucrative pockets of value are in high-quality corporate bonds and preferred stocks of banks and financial institutions that have partnered with the government in programs such as the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). While their profitability may be restricted, their ability to pay interest and preferred dividends should be unhampered. Above all, stick to high-quality companies and asset classes. The road to recovery will be treacherous.

    Robert Shiller
    The Yale professor and co-founder of MacroMarkets called both the dot-com and housing bubbles

    We don't currently have anywhere near the level of unemployment that we had in the 1930s, but otherwise there are many similarities between today's environment and the Great Depression, with things happening today that we haven't seen since then. First of all, there's the magnitude of the stock market's move up and down. The real (inflation-corrected) value of the S&P 500 nearly tripled from 1995 to 2000, and by November 2008 was down nearly 60% from its 2000 peak. The only other comparable event was the one in the 1920s where real stock prices more than tripled from 1924 to 1929 and then fell 80% from 1929 to 1932. Second, we've had the biggest housing bust since the Depression. Third, we've seen 0% interest rates. We've actually seen briefly negative short-term interest rates. That hasn't happened since 1941. There was a period from 1938 to 1941 when we were bouncing around at zero and sometimes negative, but that hasn't happened since.

    And the list goes on: Our numbers don't go back as far as the Depression, but consumer confidence is plausibly at the lowest level since then. Volatility of the stock market in terms of percentage changes day-to-day is the highest since the Depression. In October 2008 we saw the biggest drop in consumer prices in one month since April 1938. Another thing is that it's a worldwide event, as it was in the Depression.

    I'm optimistic that we'll do better this time, but I'm worried that we're vulnerable. One of the lessons from the Depression is that things can smolder for a long time. What I'm worried about right now is that our confidence has been hurt, and that's difficult to restore. No matter what we do, we're trying to deal with a psychological phenomenon. So the Fed can cut interest rates and purchase asset-backed securities, but that only works in really restoring full prosperity if people believe that we're back again. That's a little hard to manage.

    In terms of the stock market, the price/earnings ratio is no longer high. I use a P/E ratio in which the price is divided by ten-year average earnings. It's a really conservative way of looking at it. That P/E ratio got up to 44 in the year 2000, which was a record high. Recently it was down to less than 13, which is below the average of around 15. But after the stock market crash of 1929, the price/earnings ratio got down to about six, which is less than half of where it is now. So that's the worry. Some people who are so inclined might go more into the market here because there's a real chance it will go up a lot. But that's very risky. It could easily fall by half again.

    Sheila Bair
    The FDIC chairman has been pushing to get mortgage relief for borrowers.

    My 87-year-old mother is a native Kansan who grew up in the throes of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. She is a classic "buy and hold" investor who would make Warren Buffett proud. Her investment returns always exceeded those of my father, to his eternal consternation. He actively traded his stocks and produced decent returns, but nothing like those my mother achieved by simply buying stocks of companies she understood and liked, and then holding onto them.

    So I have become a strong advocate of the "basics" when it comes to investing: Do your homework, invest in securities you understand, and then hold on. As a government policymaker, I advocate informed investment decisions - not only to protect investors from losses but also because the efficient functioning of our capital markets relies on investors' doing their homework.

    The private-label mortgage-backed securitization markets are a prime example. Trillions of dollars of investor money funded millions of mortgages that borrowers had little chance of repaying. Investors relied heavily on ratings agencies, which in turn relied too heavily on mathematical models instead of analyzing the underlying loans. To be sure, borrowers, brokers, lenders, securitizers, as well as state and federal regulators, all bear responsibility for the widespread deterioration in lending standards. But the problem was compounded by the fact that those ultimately holding the risk - the investors - did not look behind their investments at the quality of the mortgages themselves. If they had, they would have seen high loan-to-value ratios, little income documentation, burdensome fees, and steep payment resets. They would have seen mortgages unaffordable from the beginning, originated based on the assumption that home prices would continue to rise and borrowers would refinance. Of course, we now know that as home prices began to depreciate, borrowers were unable to refinance, leading to massive foreclosures and further price declines. This self-reinforcing downward spiral is at the core of the economic problems we face today.

    We will dig out of this. And when we do, I hope for a back-to-basics society - where banks and other lending institutions promote real growth and long-term value for the economy, and where American families have rediscovered the peace of mind of financial security achieved through saving and investing wisely. We need to return to the culture of thrift that my mother and her generation learned the hard way through years of hardship and deprivation. Those are lessons learned that the current crisis is teaching us again.

    Jim Rogers
    The commodities guru predicted two years ago that the credit bubble would devastate Wall Street.

    We are in a period of forced liquidation, which has happened only eight or nine times in the past 150 years. The fact that it's historic doesn't make it any more fun, of course. But it is a pretty interesting time when there is forced selling of everything with no regard for facts or fundamentals at all. Historically, the way you make money in times like these is that you find things where the fundamentals are unimpaired. The fundamentals of GM are impaired. The fundamentals of Citigroup are impaired.

    Virtually the only asset class I know where the fundamentals are not impaired - in fact, where they are actually improving - is commodities. Farmers cannot get a loan to buy fertilizer right now. Nobody's going to get a loan to open a zinc or a lead mine. Meanwhile, every day the supply of commodities shrinks more and more. Nobody can invest in productive capacity, even if he wants to. You're going to see gigantic shortages developing over the next few years. The inventories of food worldwide are already at the lowest levels they've been in 50 years. This may turn into the Great Depression II. But if and when we come out of this, commodities are going to lead the way, just as they did in the 1970s when everything was a disaster and commodities went through the roof.

    What I've been buying recently is agricultural commodities. I've also been buying more Chinese stocks. And I'm buying stocks in Taiwan for the first time in my life. It looks as if there's finally going to be peace in Taiwan after 60 years, and Taiwanese companies are going to benefit from the long-term growth of China.

    I have covered most of my short positions in U.S. stocks, and I'm now selling long-term U.S. government bonds short. That's the last bubble I can find in the U.S. I cannot imagine why anybody would give money to the U.S. government for 30 years for less than a 4% yield. I certainly wouldn't. There are going to be gigantic amounts of bonds coming to the market, and inflation will be coming back.

    In my view, U.S. stocks are still not attractive. Historically, you buy stocks when they're yielding 6% and selling at eight times earnings. You sell them when they're at 22 times earnings and yielding 2%. Right now U.S. stocks are down a lot, but they're still very expensive by that historical valuation method. The U.S. market is yielding 3% today. For stocks to go to a 6% yield without big dividend increases, the Dow will need to go below 4000. I'm not saying it will fall that far, but it could very well happen. And if it gets that low and I'm still solvent, I hope I'm smart enough to buy a lot. The key in times like these is to stay solvent so you can load up when opportunity comes.

    John Train
    The author and chairman of Montrose Advisors has 50 years of Wall Street experience.

    I presume that although we are in a severe recession it will not decompose into a full-scale depression, because that is what everyone is afraid of and desperate to avoid. Wall Street likes to say that the market has anticipated five of the last three recessions - the point being that a market crash frightens the authorities into taking necessary action.

    Keynes observed that pragmatic businessmen often could not imagine that they were the slaves of defunct economists, but ironically, never is this more true than today of Keynes himself. So we run a huge deficit to postpone the worst. That means inflation, so bonds are unsatisfactory.

    Investment opportunity is the difference between the reality and the perception. And since many equities are priced as though a depression might be on the way, many of them are attractively priced.

    One approach I am comfortable with is owning shares in wonderful businesses that do well in all circumstances - Johnson & Johnson and the like. They rarely fly out of the park, but provide long, steady gains that will get you where you want to go. They often have huge cash hoards, e.g., Cisco, Apple, Microsoft, and Berkshire Hathaway, whose war chests exceed $20 billion. Or Hewlett-Packard, Google, Intel, or IBM, all in the $10 billion league. Such companies can take advantage of a weak market just as private investors would, with the difference that they know very well how much to pay for what fits their product line.

    In the present environment I favor companies that can prosper in the lean years ahead. So, not Saks, but Wal-Mart; not Neiman Marcus, but Dollar General. Or specialists, such as Fastenal, Monsanto, or Schlumberger.

    And when should you buy? In or near what I call the Time of Deepest Gloom, if you can spot it.

    Meredith Whitney
    The Oppenheimer & Co. analyst was among the first to warn that the big banks had big problems.

    What the federal government has done so far- with TARP, bailing out Citigroup, etc. - has stemmed the bleeding, but what it hasn't done is fundamentally alter the landscape. Yes, there's been a tremendous amount of capital thrown into the system, but my concern is that it's just going to plug the holes. It's not going to create new liquidity, which is what the system so desperately needs.

    When the government announces these plans, investors get excited and hopeful. But details have been slim, and while I appreciate the government saying, "We've been wrong here. Let's try something different," the strategy changes have not solved anything. So far we've had TARP 1.0, TARP 2.0, and TARP 3.0, and I'm certain there will be a 4.0, a 5.0, and a 6.0. There has to be, because the companies cannot raise the capital they need, which means that the default provider of capital has to be the federal government.

    What happens in 2009? Frankly, it's hard for me to predict what's going to happen next week, never mind next year. What I will say is that I expect all these banks to be back in the market looking for more capital. We'll also have a wholesale restructuring of our banking system, probably toward the end of 2009. There will be banks getting smaller, banks going away, and banks consolidating. At the same time, though, I think you'll see more new banks created. We've already seen more applications. And it's a great idea: You start with a clean balance sheet and make loans today with today's information. Plus, right now you've got a yield curve that's good for lending.

    I think the overall economy will be worse than people expect. The biggest issue will be consumer spending. If 2008 was characterized by the market impacting the economy, then 2009 will be about the economy impacting the market. It's already started.

    Wilbur Ross
    The billionaire chairman of W.L. Ross & Co. specializes in turning around troubled companies.

    We are clearly in a serious recession, and more aggressive action is needed to turn things around. The federal government initially underestimated the scale of the mortgage and housing crises and later panicked into an ever-changing series of ad hoc measures that at best dealt with some of the effects of the original crises. But homeowners have now lost $5 trillion, and 12 million families have mortgages in excess of the value of their homes. Therefore the economy will not stabilize until mortgages are adjusted down to the value of homes, with affordable payment schedules, and until new mortgages become available across the home-price spectrum. Till then, the poverty effect of falling house prices and unemployment moving up toward 7% will hold consumer spending back from its former 70% contribution to our economy.

    I'm optimistic about the choices that President-elect Obama has made for his economic team, and I've got some suggestions for what they should do. Hopefully the new Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, will incentivize lenders to restructure mortgages by guaranteeing half of the reduced principal amount and sharing among the government, homeowners, and lenders any subsequent appreciation. Lenders would gain liquidity by selling the Treasury-guaranteed portion of the loan, and government would receive annual insurance premiums to further protect it against loss. That would cost taxpayers nothing now and probably little or nothing in the future.

    Addressing unemployment is paramount. Detroit needs government support in order to implement independently verified concessions from all stakeholders - not just labor - which are sufficiently large to permit profitable operations even if auto sales remain as low as 11 million cars per year. A pre-negotiated bankruptcy may be necessary in order to implement the restructuring, but both the industry and the economy are too fragile to withstand the domino effect that a free-fall bankruptcy would have on a car company, its dealers, and its suppliers.

    In addition, to avoid reversal of the 242,000 jobs created by state and local governments in the past 12 months, Washington should provide or guarantee funding for sorely needed infrastructure projects that would create immediate construction jobs and meaningful amounts of permanent jobs.

    If President Obama promptly and decisively resolves these problems, whether or not he adopts my recommendations, and restores public confidence, he can end the recession by early 2010. If not, the economy will languish for a long time. Given the economic uncertainty, investors who are too worried to buy equities might consider tax-exempt bonds with yields around 6%, equivalent to almost 10% before federal, state, and local taxes. Investors who want to hedge the risk that federal deficits might lead to longer-term inflation and drive up interest rates, causing these bonds to decline, might buy some TIPS, or Treasury inflation-protected securities, as well. TIPS are U.S. Treasury bonds whose principal amount varies with consumer price indexes to provide holders with a rate of return in constant dollars. TIPS prices currently imply near-term deflation, and that means that they would appreciate in value if inflation comes back.

    At my firm, we've been starting to invest in some distressed financial companies. That seems as if it will work out reasonably well, because they're very, very cheap. The financial services sector is kind of where the problems started, and it's probably going to need to be fixed in order for the problems to be resolved. We see opportunities there.

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  • #2
    This one also still works. So if things were like that in 08 and 09 which they were bad. How do you think the next recession will play out? I do believe we are heading for another one but not sure how bad at this time. Can't seem to grasp all the indications of one yet.


    • #3
      I say.that it'll be wrose.. We are due a recession in 2020 – and we will lack the tools to fight it

      Conditions will soon be ripe for a financial crisis, but governments will have their hands tied
      Nouriel Roubini and Brunello Rosa

      Thu 13 Sep 2018 10.10 EDT

      be prepared,be worried,be careful..and watch your 6


      • #4
        These people making these predictions are all full of horse crap. That's not to say they are right or wrong, but the fact is that people like this have been making predictions for a very long time and they are usually wrong. Then, someone's prediction actually comes true and they are treated like some hero or like they have some kind of special knowledge or insight...

        Its all horse crap.

        When the same guy can make 3 accurate predictions in a row, then I'll take them seriously.... Until then, its nothing but a million monkeys banging keys on a piano... eventually, given enough time and effort, one of them will bang out Mozart by pure statistical chance.

        We are due for a recession, its a cyclic thing that has been happening for a long time.. Interestingly, and I'll say its just by sheer coincidence, its cycle is about 11 years in length... which is the same as the solar cycle. The last recession was in 2008/2009 so we're due to start another one sometime in the next year or two.

        Trump may be able to hold it off in an effort to make his presidency look better than it is, but he'll be stealing from peter to pay paul sort-to-speak... and eventually, peter will want his stuff back. If they time it correctly, a democrat will take office when it hits and the republicans will yell and shout how its their fault.

        This is an old game...