Two of the largest sectors of the US economy are housing and automobiles. Both are reeling (see charts below).
Looking at the charts, we observe that both industries had been on a more or less continuous uptrend since 1990-92 - until they jumped off the cliff in 2007. What happened? It's quite simple, really: houses and autos are the #1 and #2 most significant purchases people make in their lifetimes, usually financing both. That's where easy-easier-easiest credit came in: in just a few years household debt as a percentage of GDP jumped from 67% to nearly 100% (see chart below).
In other words, between 2000 and 2007 we over-borrowed and over-spent on houses and cars, satisfying future demand for many years to come. No matter how low the Fed takes its rates (a record low 0.0% - 0.25% as of yesterday), people are not going to rush to borrow to buy such big-ticket, long-lasting items anytime soon. They do not need them, because they've already bought them. It follows that household lending - the driving force behind finance in recent years - is also going to be down on its heels for many years.
Conclusion: don't go bottom-fishing in these sectors just yet. Instead, investors will be better off looking for The Next Big Thing. What's that? My bet is on alternative energy and everything that revolves around it, such as smart electricity grids. A wholesale shift from "black" to "green" will necessarily require massive investment and will, also necessarily, lead to a shift from consumption to saving, in order to finance it. This will pose significant challenges to the retail and traditional services sectors, too.
I fully expect a long period of massive Creative Destruction to unfold, i.e. OPPORTUNITY. Any and all ideas from readers are welcome..