80-nine year old Peter Bernstein also isn’t buying any of this dreamy “V-shaped recovery” stuff. He lived through the Depression, and today’s environment is the worst he’s seen since.
Excerpts from the E.S. Browning interview in the WSJ:
WSJ: Aside from securitization, what were the main causes of the problem?
Mr. Bernstein: You don’t get into a mess without too much borrowing. It was sparked primarily by the hedge funds, which were both unregulated by government and in many ways unregulated by their owners, who gave their managers a very broad set of marching orders. It was a real delusion. It was like [former New York Gov. Eliot] Spitzer: “I am doing something dangerous, but because of who I am, and how smart I am, it is not going to come back to haunt me.”
When you think about how all of this will work out in the long run, we are going to have an extremely risk-averse economy for a long time. The lesson has painfully been learned. That’s part of the problem going forward. You don’t have a high-growth exit from this, as you’ve had from other kinds of crises. We won’t have a powerful start, where the business cycle looks like a V. Here, the shape of the business cycle is like an L, where it goes down and doesn’t turn up. Or like a U, a flat U. The reason for that is that people aren’t going to get caught in this bind again…
WSJ: You said that it could turn out that the smart thing to do is to take more risk, because everyone will be so risk-averse. What kinds of investments do you see as the big winners coming out of this?
Mr. Bernstein: You could say: the things that have been beaten down the most, which would be real estate. But I think real estate is going to be under a cloud for so long, and you can’t buy real estate with cash, it is too much money. I think you should go with the stock market. If things are better, the stock market will go up, and if things are awful, the stock market is going to be way down. But it is a place where, if you want to take risks, you’ve got a wide range of choices. This is why I own stocks [in addition to other investments], because I don’t know where the bottom is going to come, and I want to be exposed to every kind of possibility I can think of. And, at least, if you pick the stock market and you are wrong, you can change your mind. There is some liquidity there. Stocks never became cheap, but they didn’t become crazy, the way other assets were.
WSJ: How long do you think this whole process will take, before we get back to normal?
Mr. Bernstein: Longer than people think. The people who think we will have turned in 2009 are wrong…
WSJ: Can you explain the reason you think it will take a long time?
Mr. Bernstein: We have to go back to a moment when people have the courage to borrow and lenders have the courage to lend. Until credit is going up instead of down, you can’t have growth. Housing has got to be a very important part of that; it always has been. You have to reach a point where somebody says, “This house is cheap, I am going to buy it,” or where some businessman says, “This is a great opportunity for us to expand our business. Everything is available to us.”
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