Bridgewater Associates, the world's biggest hedge fund, expects that 2012 will carry no pleasant economic surprises.
In fact, the fund is preparing for at least a decade of slow growth and high unemployment for the big developed economies, which fund co-CIO Robert Prince describes as "zombies" and says will remain that way until they work through their mountains of debt.
"What you have is a picture of broken economic systems that are operating on life support," Prince told the Wall Street Journal. "We're in a secular deleveraging that will probably take 15 to 20 years to work through and we're just four years in."
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The problem for the U.S, Prince says, is that it is on the wrong side of a long-term debt cycle.
"We were in a leveraging-up period for 60 years, from the early 1950s to 2008," Prince says, creating a debt bubble that was self-reinforcing on the way up, and "when it tipped over, it set about a self-reinforcing process on the way down."
Prince observes that the level of leverage, as measured by comparing household income to net worth, is still higher than it was before 2008. He expects the Federal Reserve will do more quantitative easing with sporadic bond purchases.
"The most likely environment is moderate growth with wiggles up and down and this is one of those wiggles up," he says.
Nor does Prince see a brighter immediate future for Europe, where the debt crisis is a "long ways from over,” which means that interest rates in the U.S. and Europe will essentially be locked at zero for years.
"You've got insolvent banks supporting insolvent sovereigns and insolvent sovereigns supporting insolvent banks," Prince says.
Bloomberg reports that manufacturing from the U.K. to India showed improvement in December, suggesting production is weathering strains from Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
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