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Jewish Journal

Panel discusses strategies for dealing with recession

by Rachel Heller

December 22, 2008 | 4:48 pm

Talking investment strategy might not top everyone's agenda for a bright Sunday morning, but about 75 local residents gathered at Young Israel of Century City on Dec. 21 to do just that.

The Pico Boulevard synagogue opened its doors to the community for a panel discussion on the economy, its effects on real estate and stocks and what people can do to get by amid the ever-darkening financial forecast.

"We have to help those in crisis, and right now, we're all in crisis," said the Orthodox congregation's Rabbi Elazar Muskin. "A synagogue is not just a place of prayer and learning -- it has to be a family that cares for the needs of its members and the community at large."

As the Jewish community reels from monetary losses, those needs include advice on everything from investing in index funds to choosing an insurance company. All four panelists agreed on at least one thing: Living modestly and without excess is coming back into fashion.

"The days of going to the bank and getting lines of equity are over," said Jacob Hausman, owner and broker of Los Angeles-based Real Estate Finance Connection. "We have to live within our means again. This is the traditional way, which is sensible, has good traction and is grounded. It's the way of the future."

Selwyn Gerber, CPA, economist and investment adviser, also touted a return to traditional financial values. After years of spending freely, he said, U.S. consumers are literally spent.

"We're at the beginning of the end of an era," said Gerber, who made a point of referring to the economic downturn as a depression instead of a recession. "This is the beginning of the end of America's global power.... The days of California being this great place with a booming economy are gone."

Gerber's recommendations for living in this "radically new environment" included diversifying investments, avoiding flavor-of-the-month investing (hedge funds, he said, are "a Jackie Mason joke waiting to be told") and choosing index-based equities and secure bonds.

"You shouldn't have to think too much about your investments -- it should be like watching paint dry," he said. "The key is to resist the impulse to react" to the stock market's bumpy path.

But stocks are no safe haven for life insurance, said Richard Horowitz, president of Management Brokers Insurance Agency. He cautioned against buying insurance invested in the stock market and recommended checking the safety of insurance companies through a rating agency before purchasing a policy.

"You want to make sure you don't outlive your insurance company," Horowitz said, only half in jest.

On the real estate front, Hausman pointed to traditionally Jewish areas as bright spots in Los Angeles' otherwise bleak landscape. Neighborhoods like the Pico-Robertson area, he said, won't suffer as much as other locales because the enclave -- with its shuls, schools and kosher restaurants -- will always have value for the community.

"There is strong infrastructure in the Jewish community," Hausman said, adding that falling rents in these neighborhoods offer a window for younger Jewish families to move in. "This is an opportunity for families to move back into the neighborhood, if at one time that wasn't a choice. That is a silver lining."

Alan Gindi, president of ABRA Management Inc. and board president of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) Girls High School, said people will need to make sacrifices wherever they can.

"We obviously have no idea how long or how severe our current economic downturn will be," he said. "In difficult times, we're much better off securing a small brick house as opposed to building a large house made out of cardboard."

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