Preparing for the Next 'Debt Bomb'

Includes: DIA, QQQ, SPY
by: Roger Nusbaum

Paul Farrell from Marketwatch has been getting increasingly apocalyptic over the last couple of years, maybe longer. As best I can remember, he has always been opinionated and I have to tip my hat to the folks at Marketwatch for keeping him on board as his use of terms like "blight," or more correctly, "Debt Bomb Explosion" might turn off some potential readers. His latest article has the secondary headline of 10 Short Term Tips For Investors Worried About 'Debt Bomb.'

It really is a misery-inducing post. After listing 10 very dark links he concludes that they scream -- "new meltdown, dead ahead." The 10 tips are not necessarily anything you haven't read before but after listing them he goes on to note that "worse yet, 'deleveraging, weak commodity prices, increased government regulation, protectionism and deflation' will also extend the 'secular bear market' for years."

He also rails against Wall Street throughout the article, which is not new for him either.

I'm not terribly concerned with whether he is right so much as whether things will get anywhere near as bad as he thinks they will. If that happens, what will be the best course of action? What steps can be taken now (or should have already been taken) in case he is directionally correct or even correct on the magnitude?

If the sun stops rising in the United States it will have some effect on many other countries. I would expect, much like in 2008, that effect to be very big--that is not the long term question. To me the long term question becomes "what next?" There are many countries whose stock markets went down plenty during the bear but came back quicker than the US because, despite whatever their connection was to the US, they were going through more of a cyclical event whereas the US went through more of a secular event, which is what I think would happen again in Farrell's scenario (more likely it would all be viewed as one event).

To be clear, stock markets from other countries would drop with the US in a debt doomsday but they would not be permanently broken (well, some would be) and so would come back and those initial sympathy declines would in hindsight be viewed as great buying opportunities. But there would be some period of extreme nervousness or even panic.

The task of preparing involves figuring out what countries can function without the US or, more correctly, get back to some semblance of normal functioning relatively soon after the "debt bomb" because I promise much of the world will figure out how to function if Farrell's scenario plays out, even if it takes a while.

For what it's worth, my opinion all along has been the US as a less attractive investment destination but not a financial apocalypse.