When it comes to the U.S. economy, the glass may not be half empty after all.

Three prominent bears -- David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates, Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive officer at Pacific Investment Management Co. and David Levy, chairman of the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center -- separately see some hopeful signs. These include a housing market that is healing, a more competitive manufacturing industry and technological breakthroughs that could boost productivity.

“More so than at any time in the past three years, I’m doing whatever I can to identify silver linings in the clouds,” Rosenberg said.

None of the three is ready to declare the all-clear. While the chances the economy could perform better than expected are “somewhat” higher than before, the downside risks are bigger, said El-Erian, who oversees $1.9 trillion at Pimco in Newport Beach, California. These include the so-called fiscal cliff, which all three agree would trigger a recession if nothing is done to avert its spending cuts and tax increases.

The continued caution of the three economists is reflected in advice they are giving investors. Rosenberg recommends gold- mining stocks and shares of utility companies, the latter as part of a strategy he’s dubbed “Safety and Income at a Reasonable Price.”

‘Be Defensive’

“This is a time to be defensive,” said Levy of the Mount Kisco, New York-based economic forecaster. “We are still in a rocky period.” He has been bullish on Treasury bonds for more than five years and eventually sees yields falling even further. The yield on the 30-year bond was 2.78 percent as of 5 p.m. yesterday in New York, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data.

El-Erian suggests investors look outside the U.S. for economies that are growing faster and put money in companies and nations with strong balance sheets, including Brazil’s and Mexico’s local bonds. He said investors also should “actively” manage their portfolios to protect against downside risks and take advantage of upside surprises that might materialize through the use of puts, calls and other trading strategies.

El-Erian and Rosenberg recommended a defensive stance on financial markets about a year ago in separate interviews on Bloomberg Television. Toronto-based Rosenberg said investors should look at dividend-paying health-care, utility and consumer-staples stocks, which are least-tied to changes in economic growth.

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