Wien's Reasons for Optimism -- and Concern

Blackstone Group’s Byron Wien is seeing reasons for optimism in the U.S., though he thinks the stock market boom days of the 1980s and 1990s aren’t coming back anytime soon.

“I’m actually kind of positive on the U.S. because I think some good things are happening,” Wien tells The Wall Street Journal in a side-ranging interview. He notes that housing has been a drag on economic growth since the housing bubble burst, but that housing inventory has dropped significantly. He thinks the housing sector will actually contribute to growth in 2013.

Another positive Wien sees: the development of “fracking” to get natural gas, which he says is enriching some states and also keeping energy prices low for consumers, which lets them spend elsewhere, the Journal reports. Wien also thinks the U.S. will avoid the “tax cliff” scheduled to go into effect at the end of the year, regardless of who wins the Presidential election, and he thinks the debt drama playing out in Europe won’t quash a rally in the U.S.

Wien, who is high on emerging markets, isn’t exactly a raging bull on the U.S., though. Because America is a “mature country”, he says GDP growth should average only about 2% after-inflation; he expects corporate earnings to grow about 5% per year, well below the 8.4% average post-World War II. “Look, everybody longs for the days from 1982 to 1999, when stocks compounded at 15% or more,” he says. “Those days are not returning any time soon.” He cites federal deficits and high unemployment as concerns, and says the unemployment raises the possibility of “social unrest”. To achieve major growth, he says, “this country has to go through almost a convulsive change,” including major education and healthcare reform.