The Man Who Saw It Coming: Meet Dr. Doom

He's known as Dr. Doom, but Nouriel Roubini doesn't really resemble the comic book villain who originally held the name.

In fact, unlike his green-caped alter ego, Roubini, 50, is a rather popular guy. Visitors to his sunny, bustling Manhattan office will find a slightly-rumpled intellectual with a relaxed air that betrays the fact that he is constantly on the move.

Any given day might find Roubini in a different time zone or a different continent, whether at a business meeting in Europe, a Congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., or the occasional eyebrow-raising party at his own spacious city loft.

So what's with the morbid nickname? It has to do with Roubini's prescience: Two years ago, the economist and New York University professor predicted a severe U.S. recession, triggered by a giant housing slump and exacerbated by rising oil prices and rising debts.

"This is a tipping point for the U.S. consumer," Roubini wrote in late August, 2006, "and the effects will be ugly."

Days later, he shared his forecasts in a speech before economists at the International Monetary Fund. He predicted the downfall of subprime mortgage lenders and the risks to U.S. mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to banks and, ultimately, to the world economy.

"I started talking about subprime mortgages being a problem when 99 percent of the world had never even heard the word subprime," Roubini said in a recent interview with

"At the time, people thought I was crazy," he recalled.

To be sure, Roubini wasn't the only economist to warn of a housing bust and related consequences.

But "the bulk of the people in the audience at that point were not where Nouriel was," said Prakash Loungani, the IMF research advisor who invited Roubini to speak. "They thought what he was describing was something out in the left field."

Don't expect economists who doubted Roubini to concede that they were wrong, Loungani added.

"Economists don't come out and say these things," he said. "I think it's reflected just in the respect and the following he has now. That's where you see the shift."

Not a 'Permabear'?

Still, not everyone is convinced of Roubini's prognostication skills. Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard who has known Roubini since he was a grad student, said Roubini has been pessimistic about the economy for a long time.

"He provides a lot of value-added [analysis] because he's looking at dark scenarios and what could happen and how it could happen," he said.

But, he said, "I don't think the point is that he called the recession, because he's called the recession repeatedly for many years."

Roubini dismisses the idea that he is a "permabear" -- economist slang for someone who systematically projects downturns -- just as he dismissed skepticism about the dire predictions he made two years ago.

"When there is a bubble, there is euphoria and irrational exuberance and people lose track of the overall underlying fundamentals," he said. "I was comfortable with the rigor of my analysis."

After a decade spent studying financial crises in emerging markets, Roubini was able to draw parallels between emerging market countries and the well-established U.S. economy through everything from housing and credit bubbles to enormous deficits.

The United States, Roubini told the New York Times in August, "looked like the biggest emerging market of all."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...