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Surprise! This index shows the economy is in trouble

The Citi Economic Surprise Index hit a multiyear low Thursday and according to one portfolio manager, the move should have investors thinking about how to protect their portfolios.

The index is a widely followed indicator of how economic data are matching up to expectations, and the fact that it hit its lowest level since August 2011 has Chad Morganlander of Washington Crossing Advisors urging investors to start protecting their portfolios in light of a "deceleration of growth."

"What we believe will be happening over the course of the next six months is you're going to start to see financial conditions tightening a bit," he said Thursday on CNBC's "Trading Nation." "It doesn't mean [it will result in] a scare or a recession, but rather just a deceleration."

As a result, Morganlander recommends that investors start moderating their equity exposure "from overweight to [a more balanced] equity exposure" in case the stock rally hits a snag. He also recommends looking at a more long-term bond portfolio as he sees the yield curve flattening out more in the next three to four months.

But in the event that the index continues to sit at such low levels, Bill Baruch of iiTrader suggests that this might be the right time to buy the U.S. dollar. According to Baruch, when the index falls down into the -40 percent to -60 percent area, just slightly lower than its current levels, "you want to buy the dollar" as that's an indication of a rally.

"Hard data has been just about awful, but the Fed has been positive over the last week, talking very hawkishly and that's really gotten the dollar to try to bottom," Baruch said on "Trading Nation." "If the hard data can come around, the dollar index is about to rally about 2 percent."

The dollar has, in fact, dropped almost 5 percent this year, in tandem with the Citi index.

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Brian Sullivan

Brian Sullivan is co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F,1PM-3PM ET), one of the network's longest running programs, as well as the host of the daily investing program "Trading Nation." He is also a frequent guest on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and other NBC properties.

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