The Housing Chronicles Blog: Fortune magazine talks to 8 prognosicators

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fortune magazine talks to 8 prognosicators

Dow 4000? Food shortages? A bubble in Treasury bills? Welcome to 2009, courtesy of 8 different visions of economists/analysts/businesspersons opining in Fortune magazine:

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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...

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.

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