Our best guesstimate is four years before the current secular bear market breaks (to the upside) from it's admittedly wide trading range.
There are developments in material science, various technologies lumped under the rubric "nanotechnology"* and energy production that could come together as "The Next Big Thing".
From Project Syndicate:
Much of the talk emerging from the August 2010 Jackson Hole Economic Symposium, attended by many of the world’s central bankers and economists, has been about a paper presented there that gave a dire long-run assessment of the future of the world’s economies.
The paper, “After the Fall,” was written by economists Carmen Reinhart and Vincent Reinhart. Their work draws upon a recent book that Carmen Reinhart co-authored with Kenneth Rogoff, entitled This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.
According to the Reinharts’ paper, when compared to the decade that precedes financial crises like the one that started three years ago, “GDP growth and housing prices are significantly lower and unemployment higher” in the subsequent “ten-year window.” Thus, one might infer that we face another seven years or so of bad times.
Economic theory is not sufficiently developed to predict major turning points based on first principles or mathematical models. So we have to be historically oriented in our method. History may be a “soft” social science, but we have to look at it, even distant history, if we are to grasp other examples of major crises.
Moreover, we have to look at the entire world. Most economists study the recent history of their own country, which is easiest to do, and their results sound superficially important to most of their countrymen. But major financial crises are rare by the standards of any one country, and we have to range widely through history to get enough information about how such crises play out.
The research by the Reinharts and Rogoff is an expansion and generalization of many people’s informal economic thinking, which often compares the present with stories of major past episodes.
Ever since the current crisis began in 2007, many people have been wondering if the Great Depression that followed the 1929 stock-market crash and the banking crises of the early 1930’s is relevant to our experience today. The troubling fact about the Great Depression is that it was severe, global, and lasted over a decade – and that it followed the collapse of an equity and real-estate boom, roughly as happened before the current crisis.HT: FT Alphaville
Likewise, many people have been wondering if the weakness that followed the equity and real-estate crash in Japan at the beginning of the 1990’s is relevant to our experience today. They used to refer to Japan’s “lost decade.” Now it is more appropriate to describe that experience as the “lost decades.”
Are these examples models for our future? They certainly make one stop and think. But they do not stand as convincing evidence about what will happen – after all, two observations are hardly enough to prove the point.
But now the Reinharts and Rogoff have systematically studied many more examples in modern financial history. There is also the world financial crisis that attended the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979, and there are the country-specific financial crises in Spain in 1977, Chile in 1981, Norway in 1987, Finland and Sweden in 1991, Mexico in 1994, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand in 1997, Colombia in 1998, and Argentina and Turkey in 2001....MORE
*For now, and the immediate future, don't go looking for nanotechnology "companies". That was the false expectation that came out of the dot.com crash. Instead you'll see companies using nano to gain incremental advantages that will add up, for some, to market dominance in one field or another.
That's not to say that brainiacs at MIT or Stanford or Cambridge won't use a corporate structure to monetize their discoveries, just that you won't be able to get a piece of the action before Kyocera or Bayer or DuPont snatch it up.