Some of the world’s most influential investors got together and their outlook was incredibly grim

Protestor grim reaper world capitalism globe
A grim reaper figure holds a globe pierced by the scythe of capitalism in front of the Bank of England during a protest on October 13, 2008 in London Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

The biggest investors in the market got together on Wednesday, and judging from their investment ideas they’re pretty bearish.

About everything.

The dour outlooks all came at the Ira Sohn Investment Conference on Wednesday. The conference itself is a forum for big-time investors, mostly hedge fund managers, to pitch bold ideas.

Thing is, this year nearly all of the ideas sounded grim for the world economy.

The conference’s two macro-level investors — Stanley Druckenmiller of Duquesne Capital and Jeff Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital — both forecasted serious storm clouds on the horizon.

Druckenmiller decried central bank’s “myopia” of low interest rates and said it is fuelling a debt bubble at the corporate and government level. He then said the bull market is “exhausting itself” and that investors should go “significantly overweight” one safe asset: gold.

Gundlach took a hatchet to nearly everything in his presentation. He called negative interest rates an “optical illusion”, said the Fed’s desire to raise rates makes no sense and is hurting growth, and went after every major presidential candidate (regardless of whether they are still in the race) for their poor policies.

Both Druckenmiller and Gundlach’s presentations focused on the mismanagement of large, influential organisations — whether it be the Fed, the US government or the Chinese government. These mistakes have allowed companies and investors to give into their worst impulses, thus distorting the world economy and putting it in peril.

Some of the more micro-focused presenters at Sohn also had worrying outlooks for the economy.

David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital introduced a short of heavy equipment-maker Caterpillar, saying that the world is at the end of a commodity supercycle.

Many emerging markets are commodity dependent and Caterpillar is known as a bellwether of the manufacturing sector. Thus, Einhorn saying that the company’s shares are going to collapse 50% in two years is not an encouraging sign for either of those two groups.

Adam Fisher of Commonwealth Capital talked about European and Japanese bonds, and didn’t sound too bullish on either economy rebounding to strong growth.

Zach Schreiber, CEO of PointState Capital, called Saudi Arabia’s economy “unsustainable” due to lower oil prices in the long-term and increasing needs for social spending. Schreiber even pointed to social unrest in the country in his thesis on why to short the Saudi currency.

So you’ve got lower oil prices for longer, Middle East instability, a continued manufacturing downturn, and a prolonged European and Japanese slowdown. There isn’t much to get excited about.

To be sure, many of these investors are presenting shorts, so they’re going to be negative. But the breadth of the dour views was startling.

There were some positive views, but even in those presentations they were hedged.

Larry Robbins of Glenview Capital Management said that hedge funds and their investors would hit their long-term goals, but acknowledged that serious “waves” in the economy and markets have been disrupting returns in the near-term.

All in all, the mood from the presenters inside the conference was much like the weather outside in New York City on Wednesday: depressing and miserable.

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