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Global Markets

A Guide to Getting Rich in a Bear Market

To most investors, just surviving a bear market is more important than finding the next jet-fueled growth stock.

But I want to let you in on a secret: Rather than just trying to survive, investors can actually thrive in bear markets.

In fact, I make a lot more money a lot faster in bear markets than I do in bull markets.

After all, stocks and most other asset classes typically fall faster than they rise, because fear is a much stronger motivator than greed.

So if you're not making money in a market like this one – where prices are falling, even plummeting – you're missing out.

It's time to change that. And I'm going to show you how.

Bear Market Funds

The best way to profit from a bear market is to use exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in conjunction with options.

Let's first look at the ETF component.

There are plenty of inverse ETFs that go up in price when markets go down. And for even more oomph, there are "leveraged" inverse ETFs.

You can use these funds to "short" stocks and commodities, without having to open an options account, or rely on a broker.

But remember to do your homework. Make sure you understand exactly what each ETF you're interested in actually represents. Don't just go by the name. Read each prospectus to learn how the fund's investments are allocated and how it's supposed to perform under various market conditions.

Also be sure to check the bid -and -ask spread to make sure it isn't too wide, and the average daily volume to make sure it isn't too thin. I don't trade any ETFs that trade less than 1 million shares a day, on average.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many ETFs make good short-term trading vehicles, but are bad long-term investments. That's because many ETFs don't track their benchmarks precisely. And if they are leveraged, the tracking error widens considerably over time.

Still, these are very versatile instruments. You can buy them in retirement accounts, they are margined the same way stocks are, they are liquid and tradable all day, and you can put in stop-loss and profit -target orders.

Exploring Your Options

The second way to profit from a bear market is through short selling.

I say that all the time and I'm surprised how many people think it's wrong to short stocks.

Trading to make money in a bear market has nothing to do with what's good for the U.S. economy or for America. It's simply a matter of what's good for your net worth.

The old notion that it's un-American to short stocks comes from Wall Street's institutional elite. They don't want the public shorting stocks. In fact, they don't want the public even selling stocks. Why? Because Wall Street wants buyers lined up to pay for the stocks that it is selling short.

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IMF Growth Forecast: U.S. and Europe Will Ignore Warnings, Despite Slashed Estimates

In lowering its growth forecast for the United States and Europe, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned of "severe repercussions" unless drastic measures are taken soon.

But don't expect the warning to spawn any real action.

"The global economy has entered a dangerous new phase," Olivier Blanchard, the IMF's chief economist said in the report released yesterday (Tuesday). "The recovery has weakened considerably. Strong policies are needed to improve the outlook and reduce the risks."

The IMF slashed its 2011 growth forecast for the U.S. economy from the 2.5% estimate it offered in June all the way down to 1.5%. Next year won't be any better: The 2.7% 2012 projection the IMF offered in June was cut all the way to 1.8%.

"Bold political commitment to put in place a medium-term debt reduction plan is imperative to avoid a sudden collapse in market confidence that could seriously disrupt global stability," the IMF said.

But with governments in Europe moving slowly to contain the sovereign debt crisis afflicting the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) and the United States suffering from political gridlock, the IMF's call to action will likely go unheeded.

In recent weeks, U.S. President Barack Obama has proposed a jobs plan, as well as a deficit reduction plan. But with congressional Republicans opposed to elements of those plans – primarily increases in spending and taxes – the swift policy action the IMF sees as critical will likely be stillborn .

In Europe, the IMF is calling for bold action to contain the debt crisis. It is particularly worried that a Greek default could cause many large banks – which own much of the Greek debt – to take large losses.

That U.S. banks are intertwined with European banks heightens the risk.

According to Money Morning C apital W ave S trategist Shah Gilani, "U.S. banks are widely believed to have $41 billion of direct exposure to Greece" and have loaned heavily to their European counterparts.

More sobering, Gilani says, is that "U.S. money-market funds have a hefty European exposure, too." He noted that 12% of the loans made by our biggest money-market funds were made to three big European banks – two of which, Societe Generale SA (PINK ADR: SCGLY) and Credit Agricole SA, were downgraded by Moody's Corp. (NYSE: MCO) just last week.

The third, BNP Paribas SA, remains under review.

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How Greece's Debt Issues Are Becoming a Global "Black Hole"

The extremely volatile markets of late stem in part from news suggesting Greece's debt issues have made a default imminent – creating a global black hole that's sucking in a growing number of other economies with it.

Default fears intensified last Friday when European finance ministers announced they would delay a decision on whether or not Greece was eligible for its sixth tranche of bailout funds. Greece was scheduled to get the next $11 billion (8 billion euros) installment of its $152.6 billion (110 billion euros) aid package by the end of September, but now must wait at least until October.

European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) inspectors met with Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos last night to evaluate the country's progress with austerity measures. Greece agreed to reduce its deficit to 7.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) this year, and below 3% by 2014 in order to receive bailouts from the IMF and other euro nations.

But investors are afraid the country will run out of cash before a bailout decision is reached.

Greece may not be going down to a Trojan-level defeat in the next few days, or even weeks, but there is little doubt that the country cannot afford to remain harnessed to the euro. It faces almost certain default at this point, sad to say, which means that some big banks, shareholders and bondholders are going to suffer.

Perhaps those Eurozone critics who said that a currency union not backed by taxation or bond-issuing authority was a bad idea should have been heeded. Then countries like Greece would not have been encouraged into a currency union that's an ill-suited match for its unique economy, history and ambition.

Now the critics are being proven largely right, unfortunately.

The most dangerous thing is new evidence that the debt crisis continues to spread.

Looks like France is headed down the same path as Italy and Spain. According to a Bloomberg News story last week, France may need new austerity measures to avoid a bond sell-off and credit rating downgrade.

It seems that Nicolas Sarkozy is the new Silvio Berlusconi.

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As Greek Debt Default Nears, Investors Need to Take Cover

At this point a Greek debt default is virtually unavoidable, and it could happen in a matter of weeks.

The ensuing chain reaction will upend markets around the world and will almost surely lead to more defaults among the European Union's (EU) other debt-plagued nations, collectively known as the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

The bond markets have already passed sentence, with the yield on two-year Greek bonds spiking to an astronomical 76% yesterday (Tuesday). Yields on 10-year Greek bonds rose to 24%.

By comparison, the 10-year bond yields of another PIIGS nation, Italy, rose to 5.74%. Meanwhile, bond yields for the EU's strongest economy, Germany, have dropped below 2%.

The credit default swap (CDS) markets, where investors can insure their bond purchases against default, agree with the bond markets' verdict. As of Monday it cost $5.8 million and $100,000 annually to insure $10 million worth of Greek debt for five years, which means the CDS market now considers default a 98% probability.

Most European stock markets have been hammered over the past several weeks, with some dropping as much as 25%.

"Default is inevitable," said Money Morning Global Investment Strategist Martin Hutchinson. "Greeks are paid about twice as much as they should be, and that gap can't be solved by austerity."

How Soon is Now

In recent weeks Germany has shown more reluctance to dig deeper into its own pockets to bail out Greece and the other PIIGS. At the same time, Greece has struggled to implement the austerity measures that are required if it is to continue receiving aid from the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Greece's budget deficit has increased 22% this year, while its economy is projected to shrink more than 5%.

Every new development appears to bring Greece closer to the brink of default – and some see that happening in the very near future.

"My guess is there will be a Greek debt default by the end of this fiscal quarter – yeah, that means very soon," said Money Morning Capital Waves Strategist Shah Gilani.

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The Only Way to Solve the European Sovereign Debt Crisis

It's often difficult to comprehend – much less internalize – the risks posed by the European sovereign debt crisis.

But understand this: If Europe's problems aren't resolved in an orderly fashion, the stock market drops we saw last month will be small potatoes compared to the steep declines that lie ahead.

So here's the solution: Let the Eurozone break up right now on its own terms. And let a new, stronger euro currency come as a result.

At this point, that is the only viable solution to the problems Europe faces.

So far, everything the European Union (EU) has done to try to subdue this outbreak has come up short. In spite of all the group's efforts, the European sovereign debt crisis continues to snowball, drawing more and more countries into the fold as it gathers momentum.

The trendy solution is to simply expel the weaker members of the Eurozone. That would work if Greece was the only problem, but it's not.

That's why a better solution would actually be the opposite – for the stronger countries to abandon the euro and create their own currency.

European countries with strong economies – Germany, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden – should simply walk out.

I'd like to take credit for breaking new ground with this idea, but I can't. Former head of the Federation of German Industries, Hans-Olaf Henkel, writing in the Financial Times recently proposed this alternative solution as well.

Still, it's worth subscribing to for a number of reasons.

To begin with, it would absolve the strong countries of their liability to prop up their weak Mediterranean sisters.

It was one thing when only small countries, such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal needed propping up. But now Spain, with a collapsed housing bubble and eight years of bad management, and Italy, with the most debt of any country in the EU, are at risk. Both of those countries' economies are large enough to put a sizeable dent in even Germany's vast wealth.

Even more ominous, storm clouds have started swirling around France, which is still rated AAA but does not deserve to be. The country has not balanced its budget since the early 1970s, and public spending has soared on the back of hopelessly uneconomic schemes such as the 35-hour workweek.

Now the French government has come up with a supposed solution – one that consists entirely of tax increases.

So it's clear now that something must be done. And the solution I support has benefits for both strong and weak Eurozone countries.

The Benefits of Breaking Up

For the stronger countries, leaving the Eurozone voluntarily and forming a new, stronger euro currency would…

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The Future of the European Union May Be Decided in Less than a Week

The clock may be ticking on the future of the European Union (EU).

After being shaken to its core by the sovereign debt crisis, the entire Eurozone now runs the risk of blowing up within a week.

Germany's highest court, the German Federal Constitutional Court, on Sept. 7 rules on the legality of German participation in the euro rescue fund that was established to bail out Greece.

If the court rules that Berlin's commitment to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) goes against EU law, or worse, against the German constitution, the entire Eurozone could collapse.

Think of the Eurozone as a minefield full of bombs that have long lay dormant, but are all still very active. Now, Germany's court ruling – itself a single bomb timed to go off next Wednesday – could ignite a massive chain reaction.

Germany: The Eurozone's Bomb Squad

Peripheral Eurozone countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Italy (the PIIGS) are in serious trouble and European banks face monumental liquidity and balance sheet issues.

So far, only Germany's singular fiscal conservativism and economic strength have kept the EU from self-destructing. But now the Eurozone's only legitimate bomb squad may be hanging up its lead-suits, pliers, and contagion containers.

What's at issue for the Constitutional Court is whether Berlin broke the EU's Maastricht Treaty, which unequivocally stipulates that member states cannot assume each other's debts. And, more germane to German citizens and the center-right coalition government, will be the Court's ruling on whether German Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to fund the bailout facility circumvented constitutional requirements to put such fiscal matters before the German parliament.

And while the court isn't ruling directly on the EU's currency – or Merkel's support of it – the decisions rendered will have consequences for the euro's future and by extension, the EU as a whole.

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Russian Arctic Oil to Give Exxon Mobil Leg Up on Rivals

With fresh sources of oil becoming increasingly scarce, Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) scored a major coup on Tuesday by making a deal for access to the vast reserves of Russian Arctic oil.

Many companies were in the hunt for the Russian Arctic oil, including BP PLC (NYSE ADR: BP), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (NYSE ADR: RDS.A), Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX), Total SA (NYSE ADR: TOT) and Statoil ASA (NYSE ADR: STO), but it was Exxon that walked away with the prize.

The arrangement with state-controlled Rosneft (PINK: RNFTF) gives Exxon a significant advantage over its major rivals — all of which have struggled in recent years to replace the oil they're extracting with new sources.

Rosneft, in which the Russian government has a 75% stake, estimates the three Kara Sea blocks where Exxon will be exploring contain about 36 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

"If that figure is correct and Exxon is able to produce the fields, we are talking about one of the world's largest oil discoveries in the last 50 years," Fadel Gheit, an energy analyst at Oppenheimer & Co., told MarketWatch. "But it remains to be seen how much of that oil is economically recoverable."

Rosneft estimates total reserves in the area at about 110 billion barrels of oil equivalent – an amount four times the size of Exxon's proven global reserves.

Quid Pro Quo

Having access to reserves of that size will help Exxon rectify its replacement ratio for oil. Earlier this year Exxon reported that for every 100 barrels of oil it produced, it found just 95 barrels of new oil.

Exxon has been more successful in replacing natural gas resources – it finds 158 cubic feet of gas for every 100 it extracts. But with natural gas prices slumping, the company would much rather find more oil.

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Western Oil Majors Will Get the First Crack at Libyan Oil Production

Countries that supported the overthrow of dictator Moammar Gadhafi's regime are likely to get first crack at post-war Libyan oil production, while those that sat on the sidelines are at risk of losing out.

"We don't have a problem with Western countries like the Italians, French and U.K. companies. But we may have some political issues with Russia, China andBrazil," Abdeljalil Mayouf, information manager at Libyan rebel oil firm AGOCO, told Reuters.

Talk like that has many Western oil companies licking their chops. Meanwhile, officials from China and Russia are foundering for ways to deal with the emerging Libyan government, the National Transitional Council (NTC).

Although Libyan oil production before the uprising comprised just 2% of global output, it is prized because it is of the light sweet crude variety – it contains less sulfur than most other oil and is thus cheaper to refine.

The deputy head of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce's trade department, Wen Zhongliang, tried to stay positive when asked about Mayouf's statement last week.

"We hope that after a return to stability in Libya, Libya will continue to protect the interests and rights of Chinese investors and we hope to continue investment and economic cooperation with Libya," Wen told a news conference.

But other Chinese observers were indignant.

"I can say in four words: They would not dare; they would not dare change any contracts," Yin Gang, an expert on the Arab world at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told Reuters.

Although China was getting only about 3% of its oil from Libya, the Asian giant's rapidly growing economy has given it a ravenous appetite for energy – including oil.

China abstained from the United Nations vote that authorized force to protect civilians during the uprising, and along with Russia and Brazil opposed sanctions against the Gadhafi regime.

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How to Find Energy Company Value in a Schizophrenic Market

The market remained highly volatile as we wound up last week. But the reason for that chaos seemed to be shifting from U.S. debt concerns back to the condition of credit in Europe.

Debt contagion in Western Europe was the primary reason for last week's market dives. The focus is now the condition of European banks – a disquieting shift when you remember the cause of the market slide beginning in late 2008…

Then, the credit crunch was enveloping economies worldwide. Banks could not get overnight funds from other banks, so access to business loans dried up, and the prospects of deep recession (or worse) led the worries in the United States and Europe.

At least the banking system is much better off this time around (even though financial institutions continue to withhold trillions of dollars from the flow of credit).

Now comes word that French banks may have the same endemic problems already identified in their counterparts elsewhere in Western Europe. If the trouble is real – and last week's actions by Asian banks do render credence to it – that will guarantee further turbulence in trading markets.

So much for Standard & Poor's example of France as the model for setting the U.S. debt house in order.

Actually, why anybody still lends any credence to these fiscal alchemists on sovereign debt matters is beyond me. The sub-prime collateral mortgage obligation catastrophe indicates they are not so hot on the private issuance side, either. Ultimately, whether the debt bubble is buried in commercial bank ledgers or in the public budget does not change the issue. It will have the same net effect when it bursts – disaster.

We should demand some accountability for rating agencies to understand what they are reviewing and forecasting. Otherwise, I would be about as successful with a Ouija Board.

One other matter before I stop kicking this dead horse…

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