ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. – Yes, you heard me right: This is the very last Christmas before next recession and bear market. So make the most of it. Seriously, have fun, buy lots of presents (on credit), celebrate with the folks, eat hearty, enjoy the eggnog, kiss a cutie under the mistletoe, root for your favorite team on New Year's Day.
Have fun, because the party's almost over. The bets are that 2006 is going to be bad news for the market, the economy and your pocketbook. So live it up, folks! You may as well have one last big fling before reality sets in and the bottom falls out. Here's what some of America's meanest old Scrooges are saying to try to dampen your holiday spirit:
Jeremy Grantham of GMO ($135 billion assets): "Everyone agrees that there are extreme imbalances in the U.S. and the global economy ... The bulls believe that all will work out ... The bears believe that sooner or later these imbalances will come home to roost. ... The probable winning bet [is] a very mean reversal ... for the next few years."
Gary Shilling, economist: "A bursting of the housing bubble will probably be the expansion ender. Signs of the bubble's demise are accumulating, making a 2006 recession probable."
Bill Gross of Pimco ($475 billion assets): "Now after 300 basis points and 17 months of tightening — which by the way is typical of prior bear cycles as well — it should only be logical to expect a slower economy in 2006."
Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan: "Our budget position will substantially worsen in the coming years unless major deficit-reducing actions are taken. The consequences for the U.S. economy of doing nothing could be severe."
So how can you prepare for a bear market and recession? Forget the typical year-end articles like year-end tax planning that fill the financial press like a well-lit Christmas tree and mall bell-ringers. Preparing for a recession and bear market is not about tweaking strategies that worked in a bull market.
What will work? One more time I could launch into a reminder of the advantages of a well-diversified portfolio of no-load index funds. But you don't need more softball tools, platitudinous tips and easy-to-do tactics about stuff you already know.
You need a wake up call: Total shift of consciousness, an extreme mental makeover, a massive attitude adjustment. You're not going to play armchair war games on your new Xbox 360. This is real war. In the coming years it is going to take a whole new way of thinking for you and for the rest of America. And the best advice for getting a new mindset will never, never come from Wall Street. Remember, a bullish bias and greed are all they know!
Put through your Special Forces paces
So, you want to wake up? Forget everything you know about investing and personal finance. Think like you're in a military boot camp. Imagine you're in a Special Forces survival training course. Now, stretch your thinking: How would you apply these lessons to prepare for a rough 2006. I first saw this "survival guide for tough times" in "Fast Company" magazine a few years ago. I've updated the rules for today's hostile financial conditions. Listen:
— Only the mentally strong survive. You're going into a hostile environment. "The biggest obstacles are psychological," says instructor Gordon Smith, a 26-year Green Beret veteran. Learn to control your fears now, so you don't panic in another market crash and long-term recession.
— Condition yourself for stress. Special Forces trains officers by pushing them outside their "comfort zone." Don't you get too comfortable this last Christmas and let your guard down. Remember, investors lost $8 trillion in the 2000-2002 recession.
— Keep priorities simple. In survival situations you focus on basics; food, water and shelter. Basics! For investors they're simple index funds, not all the hedge funds, commodity futures, gold coins, emerging markets and other fancy alternatives touted in the press at year-end.
— Survival takes practice. "All the techniques bear practicing now instead of waiting until you're in a situation." Back in 1999 and 2000 most investors were distracted by silly nonsense like "Dow 36000," ignoring "Irrational Exuberance."
— You can live off the land. Special Forces officers know they can survive behind enemy lines, eating snakes, grubs, worms, acorns, whatever. The trick: They know what to look for in advance. Do you have emergency funds set aside now?
— Survival takes imagination. Military survival training can't prepare you for every contingency. Once economic and market cycles peak and start trending south, expect the unexpected. You need to get creative in tough times. Rebalance, dump losers and high-risk securities.
— Survival is normal. Survival instructors know they can survive indefinitely in hostile terrain. They remember that throughout most of America's history, "survival was everyday life for our ancestors."
Like Grantham says: The probable winning bet is a very mean reversal for the next few years. So, are you prepared to survive the recession and bear market likely to hit in 2006?