Take a deep breath, and let's decide not to talk about the Greek debt crisis, the Italian debt crisis, or the euro debt crisis.
Let's instead think long term-say, eight or nine months down the road. (Yes, that's long term in this volatile market.)
Greece will or won't have defaulted. (I bet on default.) Italy will have finally replaced its government and restored some confidence in its finances. Eurozone leaders will be buried in negotiations to amend the treaties that govern the monetary union.
And what will be top of the mind for investors?
Growth-and where to find it in a world where economic growth is scarce. Rather than building portfolios with a goal of avoiding a potential blowup in Greece, Italy, or the European banking sector in general, investors will be trying to build portfolios that wring the last drop of growth out of what will be a very slow-growth world.
Shall we get a head start? (Please think of this as an update and fine-tuning of my October 11 "road map for the next nine months.")
We'll begin with the macroeconomic picture, then get to some picks.
The Developed World Is Pulling Back
Growth in the world's developed economies in 2012? Dream on.
On October 31, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development lowered its growth forecast for the United States to 1.8% for 2012. (That comes after US economic growth picked up to a 2.5% rate in the third quarter. For all of 2011, the projection called for 1.7% growth.)
For the Eurozone, the organization said, growth will fall from a projected 1.6% in 2011 to just 0.3% in 2012.
And the actual results could be even worse, the OECD said. If the Eurozone can't come up with a solution to its current crisis, the region might slip into a recession in 2012.
That's essentially the view that new European Central Bank President Mario Draghi outlined in his first bank press conference on Thursday. When the bank releases its new economic forecasts for 2012 next month, they will likely project lower growth, he said, and the Eurozone could see a mild recession next year.
There are, unfortunately, good reasons to think that these seemingly pessimistic forecasts for growth in the Eurozone and in the United States are correct-and maybe even too optimistic. It's not just that growth is slow now, but that governments in the developed world seem committed to removing the last bits of stimulus left from the 2008 Lehman Brothers crisis (the United States) and to cutting government spending (the Eurozone and the United States).
In the United States, stimulus measures-such as a reduction in the Social Security payroll tax and another round of extensions to unemployment benefits that were put into place in the 2010 lame-duck session of Congress-are set to expire at the end of 2011. And right now, I'd say the odds are that Congress won't renew them.
New stimulus measures proposed by President Barack Obama are also unlikely to pass, and new stimulus from the Federal Reserve now under discussion, such as plans to buy mortgage-backed securities (in yet another effort to lower mortgage rates), are likely to have very limited effects on the economy.
In the United States and the Eurozone, governments are looking at budget cuts that are necessary to bring long-term deficits under control, but that will cut into economic growth in the short term. In France, for example, plans to bring the 2011 budget deficit down have run into lower government revenue due to a slowing economy, and that has led to plans to cut government spending even further.
In the US the so-called supercommittee (officially the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction) is under a November 23 deadline to produce a package of budget cuts and tax increases (excuse me, I mean "revenue enhancements").
If the committee can't come up with at least $1.2 trillion in spending cuts and/or tax increases-or if Congress in a straight-up-or-down vote doesn't pass the committee's recommendations-then a menu of automatic budget cuts would go into effect in January 2013 (after the election, of course).
NEXT: Emerging Economies Won't Help Much