At the World Economic Forum two years ago, Nouriel Roubini warned that record profits and bonuses were obscuring a “hard landing” to come. “I really disagree,” countered Jacob Frenkel, the American International Group Inc. vice chairman and former Israeli central banker.
No more. “Roubini was intellectually courageous, and he called the shots correctly,” says Frenkel, whose AIG survives only on the basis of more than $100 billion of government loans. “He gained credibility, and he deserves it.”
This week, New York University’s Roubini returned to the WEF and the Swiss ski resort of Davos as the prophet of the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression – – joining the ranks of previous “Dr. Dooms” who made their names through contrarian calls that proved correct.
Even as he wins plaudits for his prescience, Roubini, 50, says worse lies ahead. Banks face bigger credit losses than they realize, more financial companies will require state takeovers and the world economy will keep shrinking throughout 2009, he says.
“The consensus is catching up with me, but it’s still behind,” Roubini said in an interview in Davos. “I don’t know what some people are smoking.”
As long ago as February 2007, Roubini was writing on his blog that “the party will soon be over,” and warning of “painful consequences for the U.S. and the global economy.” By last February, his tone had become apocalyptic, raising the specter of a “catastrophic” meltdown that central banks would fail to prevent, triggering the bankruptcy of large banks with mortgage holdings and a “sharp drop” in equities.
The next month, Bear Stearns Cos. failed, to be taken over by JPMorgan Chase & Co. in a government-backed deal. Then, in September, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. went bankrupt, prompting banks to hoard cash and depriving businesses and households of access to capital. The U.S. took over AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index suffered its worst year since 1937.
“I was intellectually vindicated,” Roubini says. “But I was vindicated by having an economic disaster which has political and social consequences.”
Roubini’s predecessors in the role of economic nay-sayer include some well-known names: Joseph Granville, publisher of the Granville Market Letter, who forecast the stock-market declines of 1976 and 2000; Henry Kaufman, who as a managing director at Salomon Brothers projected rising interest rates that led to a U.S. recession in the early 1980s; Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, who predicted the 1987 stock crash; and Yale University’s Robert Shiller, a former colleague of Roubini’s, who forecast the end of the dot-com bubble in his 2000 book “Irrational Exuberance” and said in a second edition in 2005 that the U.S. housing market had undergone the biggest speculative boom in U.S. history.
Granville, 85, says the key to being an outlier is not to doubt your analysis.
“I don’t have anything to do with emotion,” says Granville, who’s based in Kansas City. “Keep your head, follow the numbers and ignore the rest.”
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