Double-dip recession porridge: 3 bears dish it out

September 12, 2011

Now that fears of a double-dip recession are on everyone’s mind, the bears are on the prowl and really cranky.

What’s the best way to tame our fears and become confident long-term investors? Let’s listen to what some of my favorite bears have to say and then take a look at the big picture.

The most ominous threats are that of a European bank failure or double-dip recession that would slam both the U.S. and Eurozone. One of the most vocal ursines — Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at New York University — starts out his jeremiad by asking the question “Is Capitalism Doomed?”

“The massive volatility and sharp equity-price correction hitting global financial markets signal that the most advanced economies are on the brink of a double-dip recession,” Roubini writes.

Bemoaning the Euro debt crisis, America’s fiscal crisis and even the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Roubini is not sanguine the current system can handle these calamities. Consumers are gloomy and the U.S. housing market is still in the dumps.

“To enable market-oriented economies to operate as they should and can, we need to return to the right balance between markets and provision of public goods. That means moving away from both the Anglo-Saxon laissez-faire and voodoo economics and the continental European model of deficit-driven welfare states.”

Roubini’s route to this radical shift? More infrastructure spending, progressive taxation, reduction of household debt burden and “breaking up too-big-too-fail banks and oligopolistic trusts.” Paging the U.S. Treasury Department, Congress, Federal Reserve and Bank of America.

A no less enlightened bearish overview comes from money manager Jeremy Grantham, chairman of GMO LLC, who has been sour for years on global economic prospects.

Grantham’s recent missive “Danger Children at Play” rambles on about the end of the U.S. empire, yet cobbled together some cogent ideas on how to regard our fin de siecle.

Grantham, also chary of household and sovereign debt demons, offers a broader, if not darker sociological overview of the cauldron of political, economic and historical challenges:

“My worst fears about the potential loss of confidence in our leaders, institutions and `capitalism itself’ are being realized. We have been digging this hole for a long time. To go further, if we mean to prosper long term, I’m sure we need to act to make debt less attractive to everybody; it really is a snare and delusion.”

Our third, cold-porridge taste comes from bond manager Jeffrey Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital LP, the most pessimistic of the three. Gundlach likens the current environment to the blow-up of 2008.

Gundlach told Advisor One “the time is ripe” for another AIG or Lehman-level collapse “based upon the growing lack of confidence in the growing debt of Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and ultimately of France.”

Like the other bears, Gundlach is not keen on the stock market or the ability of politicians or central banks to pull us out of this muck and mire.

Surprisingly, not one of these savants recommends a sprint-like retreat into gold or stocking up on canned goods. Gundlach suggests low-risk assets. Grantham advises a cut back on risk taking and endorses quality stocks, although he doesn’t name any specific companies in his recent newsletter. Roubini doesn’t make any investment recommendations.

I’m never one to discount the possibility of another “black swan” event like 2008, so it’s hard for me to be entirely dismissive of these gentlemen. If something bad will happen, it will, but not in a way that we can completely predict. European bankers may work out their balance sheets or squabble while Rome burns. Little will change in the short term with the U.S. jobs or housing markets.

What you can do is prepare something that involves a time investment and not a call to your broker. If you already haven’t done so, sit down and prepare an investment policy statement.

This is an honest accounting of what you own, how much you plan to invest, how much you can’t afford to lose and your goals for the future. Then construct your portfolio accordingly.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you may need a complete overhaul. If you are retiring soon and need to protect assets, then you may have to consider a diversified bond allocation. You can do it yourself or work with a fiduciary such as a registered investment adviser or certified financial planner.

Whatever you do, don’t get spooked by forces you can’t fathom. You still have power over how much money you can have at risk, the amount you can save and your level of household debt. I can’t believe how good I felt years ago when I paid off my home-equity and car loans and was able to invest on a regular basis. Once you get these things under control, your world looks considerably more bullish.


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Papa Bear said, “Who’s the capitalist wolf that’s been outsourcing my damn job to India!”

Mama Bear said, “Who’s the dirty Federal reserve wolf that’s been stealing my savings and raiding the 401k!”

Baby Bear said, “I don’t want to be thrown out of my house! Me and my friends are taking to the streets, and you damn well better beware of us, ’cause we’re looking for a wolf to skin!”

The Three Bears, 2011 version

Posted by NukerDoggie | Report as abusive

We haven’t come out of the last recession and are
STILL experiencing THAT downturn. The last stimulus
was a total and miserable failure that HURT us deeply.
Much of the stimulus was sucked down a bunch of little holes, and not used for the benefit of the whole. Greed had a field day.

We have to get out from under the recession, PLUS get
out from under that poor, poor attempt at fixing the situation.

Now, the United States will soon be in an extremely
painful energy crunch and THIS will plummet the whole
current economic plans to help jobs etc. The current ideas on the table will not work, plain and simple because the root—the very root of the crisis has not been addressed. No it isn’t the bickering in Washington that is making us stall out. It is the insistent need to
think that throwing cash at the problem will be all that is required. The root of the crisis is that too many people are all out for their little individual selves and not thinking collectively, responsibly, or for the benefit as a whole. The leadership is especially guilty of this! And I mean Obama!

The East Coast will see gasoline prices skyrocket
due to reduction and squeeze from the traitorist petro industry who are nothing but Obama counterparts! People will be ditching cars for mass transit
just to cope. In the areas where mass transit doesn’t fit because of wide distances, people will be stuck.
The middle states and east of the Rockies will be grieving with economic woes ALL because of the crunch.

I suggest that the White House stay home for a good long while and work for a change. Call the energy industry into chambers and have a good long talk with these folks about what they are doing to our Nation. Then, after you’re done with that….start up with the insurance industry, the banking industry….and give them all a patriotic or get-out speech.

Posted by limapie | Report as abusive

Decades ago I attended a seminar put on by my then-stockbroker. The featured guest speaker was a multi-millionaire. Believe it or not, the speaker did not try to sell anything whatsoever to the audience. He said he only wanted to share some of his accumulated wisdom about how any of us could become (to whatever degree) wealthy. I have never forgotten his principal point, which seemed as true then as it does today: You must spend less than you earn.

Posted by Yowser | Report as abusive

That’s it. Spend less than you earn. But even better, start saving money for the things you want to buy. Than you never get into trouble. ( and you appreciate it even more)

Posted by wgoede | Report as abusive

Spend less than you earn — and SAVE! That’s the missing element in a lot of financial plans. You can cut your household budget all you want, but if you don’t put anything away, you won’t have that cushion you need.

Posted by johnwasik | Report as abusive

The ultimate problem in searching for safety is that charlatans have taken over the institutions we have been trained to flee to, the “safe havens” — the US dollar currency itself, the banks and brokers, debt instruments denominated in dollars. Each has had its own Bernie Madoff lying to the public and cheating it. And the Government too, with its Social Security and Medicare scams.

Why flee uncertainty to dishonesty and fraud? With no where safe, it may very well be the end of allowing crooks to run all our financial institutions. Problem is, they have already cleaned us out.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Should we establish a bear-hunting season in the Wall Street? The crooks made up all these bubbles looting the middle class. Now they are pushing for more QEs which will load every unborn child with hundreds of thousands in debt. Without anything allocated for bear-hunting how far would the job creation program go?

Posted by Whatsgoingon | Report as abusive