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Unformatted text preview: See a sample reprint in PDF format. Order a reprint of this article now BUSINESS SEPTEMBER 19, 2009 Dow Jones Reprints: This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers, use the Order Reprints tool at the bottom of any article or visit www.djreprints.com From Bear to Bull James Grant argues the latest gloomy forecasts ignore an important lesson of history: The deeper the slump, the zippier the recovery. By JAMES GRANT As if they really knew, leading economists predict that recovery from our Great Recession will be plodding, gray and jobless. But they don't know, and can't. The future is unfathomable. Not famously a glass half-full kind of fellow, I am about to propose that the recovery will be a bit of a barn burner. Not that I can really know, either, the future being what it is. However, though I can't predict, I can guess. No, not "guess." Let us say infer. The very best investors don't even try to forecast the future. Rather, they seize such opportunities as the present affords them. Henry Singleton, chief executive officer of Teledyne Inc. from the 1960s through the 1980s, was one of these enlightened opportunists. The best plan, he believed, was no plan. Better to approach an uncertain world with an open mind. "I know a lot of people have very strong and definite plans that they've worked out on all kinds of things," Singleton once remarked at a Teledyne annual meeting, "but we're subject to a tremendous number of outside influences and the vast majority of them cannot be predicted. So my idea is to stay flexible." Then how many influences, outside and inside, must bear on the U.S. economy? Though we can't see into the future, we can observe how people are preparing to meet it. Depleted inventories, bloated jobless rolls and rock-bottom interest rates suggest that people are preparing for to meet it from the inside of a bomb shelter. The Great Recession destroyed confidence as much as it did jobs and wealth. Here was a slump out of central casting. From the peak, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product has fallen by 3.9%. The meek and mild downturns of 1990-91 and 2001 (each, coincidentally, just eight months long, hardly worth the bother), brought losses to the real GDP of just 1.4% and 0.3%, respectively. The recession that sunk its hooks into the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter of 2007 has set unwanted records in such vital statistical categories as manufacturing and trade inventories (the steepest decline since 1949), capacity utilization (lowest since at least 1967) and industrial production (sharpest fall since 1946). It isn't just every postwar disturbance that sends Citigroup Inc. (founded in 1812) into the arms of the state or has General Electric Co. (triple-A rated from 1956 to just this past March) borrowing under the wing of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Neither does every recession feature zero percent Treasury bill yields, a coast-Federal Deposit Insurance Corp....
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- Fall '09