When Stimulus Runs Out

Mohamed El-Erian just echoed his gloomy economic forecast. Instead of using his “The New Normal” term for worldwide slow growth that he branded seven years ago, this time he used a new phrase: the “T-junction.” El-Erian’s T-junction means an economic intersection where you can’t go forward because the path we’ve been following—an economy pushing slowly forward on the benefits of central bank intervention—is a dead end.

He’s not alone in predicting a world close to stalling out, economically speaking. But given his considerable reputation (former PIMCO chief, current Allianz guru, and eerily-accurate, high-finance shaman) his voice is heard above the chorus of Wall Street soothsayers. To hear El-Erian tell it, “within the next two years, we’re not going to be able to maintain the world we’ve maintained for the last five to seven years.” And that’s a world kept spinning by the Fed’s massive cash infusion via Quantitative Easing.

If he’s right, then the next U.S. President will have a tough row to hoe. Depending on how deft the POTUS is pulling the economic levers, we could either “pivot from low growth into recession,” or “if the political class responds, we can pivot to something much better,” El-Erian said.

I usually only hear this much “pivot” talk during a college basketball game. El-Erian didn’t spell out who he meant by “the political class,” but I bet, aside from the President, it includes Fed chair Janet Yellen, a handful of influential congressmen, and perhaps a Supreme Court justice or two. And the Oracle El-Erian, unfortunately, didn’t say exactly what they can do to achieve “something much better.” I guess that’s because right now nobody knows what that is, even El-Erian.

But we can guess El-Erian would like to see some of the following ensure more growth and greater economic stability: a higher minimum wage to keep more families above the poverty level; a more progressive tax system that redistributes wealth more evenly; and less reliance on central bank stimulus to keep the economy expanding.

Pulling those levers requires political cooperation, which is why El-Erian called out the political class in his statement. To his way of thinking, the ruling business elite have been running the economy for the past decade, and have managed to squeeze everything out of it they could for their own benefit. Now it’s up to government to legislate a square deal for everyone else.

As an investor, you may be wondering what you can do to protect your portfolio in case the decision makers driving the financial bus make the wrong turn at the T-junction. If the terms El-Erian used to illustrate the penalty for going the wrong way – recession and instability – come true, then having a diversified portfolio that includes large-cap stocks that pay a healthy dividend will be critical to avoiding a financial pileup.

In fact, my IDEAL Stock Rating System is ideally suited for identifying companies that should stand up to El-Erian’s worst-case scenario. If we do suffer a downturn in our economy, then the stocks you want to own are those that pay a high dividend can increase their operating cash flow, and are priced at a discount to the rest of the market. You can find out which ones they are by visiting our S&P 500 Data Table which includes the IDEAL rating for every single company in the index.