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Restoring the Shaken Faith


The constant barrage of bad news has eroded consumer, investor and business confidence to dangerously low levels.

So much so that economists now fear this dour view could make a double-dip recession-perhaps even years of tepid growth-a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What is there to be optimistic about? So far, nothing terribly compelling. Some fund companies are telling investors to focus on the long-term-advice which the public is finding increasingly hard to believe.

Warren Buffett has tried to lift the nation's spirits by rebuking Standard & Poor's U.S. debt downgrade and investing $5 billion in Bank of America. For all of Buffet's brilliant reputation and tremendous wealth, it will take more than one man to restore the faith.

The country is gripped by "Armageddon Hypochondria," as Wells Capital Chief Investment Strategist James W. Paulsen puts it.

"This crisis-phobic culture, evident since the late 1990s, will not likely disappear anytime soon," Paulsen warns. He believes it will take many years for the culture to slowly turn away from "imminent expectation of crisis" to focus, once again, on the promise of underlying fundamentals.

America can ill afford years of slow to no growth, as Japan's stagnant economy of the past two decades has proven.

Rather, the nation's political and financial leaders need to point to an actual source of strength.

It does exist.

U.S. consumers have traditionally driven 70% of GDP growth. But with the labor and housing markets so weak, consumers are in no longer in the driver's seat.

"The corporate sector, however, has profoundly strengthened its financial position over the past few years," the BlackRock Investment Institute contends, "and it may be the key to driving growth." The net debt/equity ratio of S&P 500 companies, ex-financials, for instance, has dropped from 90% in 2000 to 45% today. "In a fascinating turn of events, the corporate sector is thriving in an environment where the economy overall is not," BlackRock says.

If government policy can put this capital to work-and prompt business to restore the faith-investors, consumers and the entire nation will reap the rewards. And sidestep years of what will otherwise be debilitating pain.