Barry Ritholtz says, A Bad Economy Could Spell Good News on Wall Street for Years to Come

The economic recovery isn’t as strong as first thought. Revised GDP figures released this morning show the economy grew at a 2.8% annualized pace in the third quarter, less than the 3.5% initially reported. The revision was in-line with expectations but shows the economy didn’t have as much momentum heading into the fourth quarter as previously believed.Unlike Wall Street traders, consumers seem to know the recovery is “anemic,” as Barry Ritholtz, CEO of Fusion IQ, describes it. The Conference Board’s latest confident survey shows Americans feel worse about the current economic situation than they did in March, when the stock market was making new lows. (Thanks to Dan Greenhaus of Miller Tabak for pointing this out this last fact.)Yet, stocks are still near their highs of the year. Going into the final hours of trading Tuesday, stocks were in the red but well off the lows of the day. What’s driving the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street?Ritholtz says it’s a classic example of bad news being good news on Wall Street. “We’re in a cycle that’s not based on profitability, not based on expanding economy but based on all sorts of government supports,” he says. “Bad news is going to be good news for the next couple of quarters probably.”That’s because low interest rates and liquidity provided by the Federal Reserve, coupled with government stimulus are enticing traders to buy into the market. “Cash is trash,” says Rithotlz, who remains bullish on stocks.Ritholtz is confident that eventually fundamentals will prevail and thinks the market will take a hit once the economy shows signs of improvement, meaning the “extraordinary” stimuli can be removed. But predicting the timing is anyone’s guess. “You could have this disconnect that goes on for not days, weeks or months but years and years,” he says. So, in the meantime, Ritholtz – who correctly predicted the 2008 crash and told Tech Ticker’s audience “the mother of all bear market rallies,” was upon us in March – is still long stocks and likes commodities (thanks to a weak dollar) and emerging markets.

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Niall Ferguson says, U.S. Empire in Decline and on Collision Course with China

The U.S. is an empire in decline, according to Niall Ferguson, Harvard professor and author of The Ascent of Money.”People have predicted the end of America in the past and been wrong,” Ferguson concedes. “But let’s face it: If you’re trying to borrow $9 trillion to save your financial system…and already half your public debt held by foreigners, it’s not really the conduct of rising empires, is it?”Given its massive deficits and overseas military adventures, America today is similar to the Spanish Empire in the 17th century and Britain’s in the 20th, he says. “Excessive debt is usually a predictor of subsequent trouble.”Putting a finer point on it, Ferguson says America today is comparable to Britain circa 1900: a dominant empire underestimating the rise of a new power. In Britain’s case back then it was Germany; in America’s case today, it’s China.”When China’s economy is equal in size to that of the U.S., which could come as early as 2027…it means China becomes not only a major economic competitor – it’s that already, it then becomes a diplomatic competitor and a military competitor,” the history professor declares.The most obvious sign of this is China’s major naval construction program, featuring next generation submarines and up to three aircraft carriers, Ferguson says. “There’s no other way of interpreting this than as a challenge to the hegemony of the U.S. in the Asia-Pacific region.”As to analysts like Stratfor’s George Friedman, who downplay China’s naval ambitions, Ferguson notes British experts – including Winston Churchill – were similarly complacent about Germany at the dawn of the 20th century.”I’m not predicting World War III but we have to recognize…China is becoming more assertive, a rival not a partner,” he says, adding that China’s navy doesn’t have to be as large as America’s to pose a problem. “They don’t have to have an equally large navy, just big enough to pose a strategic threat [and] cause trouble” for the U.S. Navy.

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Jim Rogers Says, Gold Will Hit $2,000 and USA Will Lose Status As The World’s Reserve Currency

Good Time To Buy Gold

Good Time To Buy Gold

Famed investor Jim Rogers is “quite sure gold will go over $2000 per ounce during this bull market.”Rogers’ confidence gold will continue to rally stems from a view the U.S. dollar is on its way to losing status as the world’s reserve currency.”Is it going to happen? Yes,” Rogers says. “I don’t like saying it [and] I’m extremely worried about it but we have to deal with the facts. America is not getting better [and] the dollar is going to be replaced just like pound sterling [was].”Rogers didn’t offer a timetable, and it’s likely gold would exceed $2000 per ounce if the dollar were to lose its reserve status.Still, “I wouldn’t buy gold today,” Rogers says. “I think I’ll make more money in other commodities, which are cheaper,” as discussed in more detail here.Among many others, Rogers is “worried about the fact the U.S. government is printing huge amounts, spending gigantic amounts of money it doesn’t have,” the investor and author says. “People are very worried [and] skeptical about paper money [and] looking for places to protect themselves. The best way is to buy real assets. [That] has always protected one during currency turmoil, and it will again.”

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Marc Faber – Emerging Market Economies Will Challenge and Surpass the West

Marc Faber has an informal rule never to spend more than 10 days in a country before rushing to the next one. In addition to lots of frequent-flyer miles, this gives him the chance to see firsthand how lots of the world is doing.So how’s it doing?Better than the U.S., says Faber, the editor of the The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report.In the U.S. we have a “structural unemployment” problem. We have a debt problem. We have an economy-propped-up-by-frantic-government-spending problem. And, by in large, while the rich get richer, the middle class does not benefit, especially during the boom days earlier this decade.The rest of the world has problems, too, of course, Faber says, but they’re not as bad as ours. He’s observed businesses in emerging markets in Asia are less vulnerable to market fluctuations because they tend to be cash rich, and therefore less reliant on debt and leverage. He also says there’s a hunger and competition, in countries like China and India, that’s missing in the U.S.So go ahead and enjoy the “v-shaped” recovery while it lasts, says Faber, who has already fled to Hong Kong.

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Go for Gold Inflation Is Here and Going to Get “Much Much Worse” Pento Says: Tech Ticker, Yahoo! Finance

* Bernanke says recession ‘very likely over’ – AP * Fed Chief Says Recession Is ‘Very Likely Over’ – NYT.com * Bernanke Sees Recession’s End – WSJ.com

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You Have 3 Choices: Inflation, Deflation, or Stagflation

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There are 3 possible scenarios for the U.S. economy.

Stay alert
Invest accordingly

Deflation

Deflation is the threat dominating headlines. “You’ve got a strong supply of goods and weak demand. That’s a recipe for prolonged deflation,” says A. Gary Shilling, economist and author of Deflation: How to Survive & Thrive in the Coming Wave of Deflation (McGraw-Hill). The problem is deflation’s ripple effect: When banks stop lending, businesses stop expanding and wages fall. Consumers stop spending, which pushes prices lower. Why won’t massive stimulus pull the economy out of the deflationary lane? Shilling fears that the U.S. government’s economic tampering will have a “Big Brother effect,” hurting innovation and permanently curbing growth.

The Signs. The surest sign of deflation is a decline in the consumer price index, which tracks the prices of consumer goods and services. But it’s hard to ignore lower real estate values, which aren’t in the CPI. Home prices fell more than 18% in 2008, according to the S&P/Case-Schiller U.S. National Home Price Index. Another deflation indicator: the higher savings rate, which we’re seeing for the first time in 25 years. Shilling expects the savings rate to rise from 4.2% to 10% in the next decade.

Investment Strategy. “Quality is paramount in deflationary markets,” Shilling says. He thinks most investors should be in short-term certificates of deposit or money-market funds. Those with a 10-year time horizon should also buy tech stocks, such as semiconductors, he says. Companies facing deflation can’t cut prices and must boost productivity through technology.

Inflation

The Argument. Many of the economists and financial advisers polled by BusinessWeek for this story believe the huge amount of money being pumped into banks by the Federal Reserve (chart, right) makes inflation a real threat. Hans Olsen, chief investment officer for JPMorgan Chase (JPM)’s private wealth management business, says the stimulus plan ultimately will lead to higher inflation. However, total inflation is basically nonexistent at -0.4%. The trick is figuring out when it will be a problem. “The nasty thing about inflation is that it’s insidious,” Olsen says. Banishing inflation from the economy once it is “infected” is hard.

The Signs. The leading indicator used to measure inflation is the CPI.

Commodity prices, particularly those of oil and copper, are another bellwether. One indicator Olsen tracks is government debt as a percentage of gross domestic product, which he sees surging from 40% to 80% over the next few years.

Investment Strategy. Mild price inflation is considered healthy for stock investors because it is a sign that the economy is growing. But when inflation spikes, as it did when it hit 13% in the 1970s, interest rates rise and borrowing stops. For bondholders, soaring inflation eats away at asset values over extended periods.

The most direct way to fight this is to buy Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS)—government-backed bonds pegged to inflation via the CPI. (TIPS belong in tax-deferred accounts because they are not tax-efficient.) A study by economic consultancy Peter L. Bernstein Inc. found that, for an aggressive investor who is worried about inflation, a 47%/53% proportion of TIPs to stocks (the study tracked broad stock market indexes) provided the best risk-adjusted real returns over a wide range of inflationary environments.

Among mutual funds, advisers favor the Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX), which had an annualized return of 5% for the past three years. Other plays include the iShares Barclays TIPS Bond exchange-traded fund (TIP) and Pimco Real Return Fund (PRTNX).

Commodities are another classic hedge. A well-diversified commodity play is the Pimco Commodity Real Return Fund (CRIX), which combines commodities with TIPS. Many advisers also like the SPDR Gold Trust ETF (GLD) and the First Eagle Gold Fund.

Stagflation

Stagflation is caused by the combination of slow growth and surging inflation. Slower growth will come from extreme caution by lenders, households, and businesses, while a shortage of production capacity will create inflationary bottlenecks, argues Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer at Pimco. “Stagflation will be part of the new normal,” he says.

The Signs. The misery index, which combines the unemployment and inflation rates, is the best gauge of stagflation. In March it was at 8.1%. El-Erian predicts that unemployment will hit 10% by yearend, and 2% inflation could bring the misery index up to 12% by the end of 2010.

Investment Strategy. Insulating your portfolio from stagflation is tough. Equity investors need to take a very conservative stance, focusing on high-quality growth stocks such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and PepsiCo (PEP), says John Boland, financial adviser at Maple Capital Management. Gold, as well as TIPS, will help mitigate some of the inflation risk. El-Erian considers TIPS a bargain because 10-year TIPS are pricing in inflation of less than 1.5% for the next decade, and he sees inflation jumping as high as 6% by 2011.

yahoo-finance Young is a Personal Business editor for BusinessWeek with Tara Kalwarski in New York