John Mauldin

  • Fear for a Lost Decade

    Before we get into this week's Outside the Box, let me give you a few pieces of data that came across my desk this morning, which will help set the stage for the OTB offering.

    Fitch (the ratings agency), in a downgrade of yet another 543 mortgage-backed securities of 2005-07 vintage, gives us the following side notes: 'The home price declines to date have resulted in negative equity for approximately 50% of the remaining performing borrowers in the 2005-2007 vintages. In addition to continued home price deterioration, unemployment has risen significantly since the third quarter of last year, particularly in California where the unemployment rate has jumped from 7.8% to 11%... The projected losses also reflect an assumption that from the first quarter of 2009, home prices will fall an additional 12.5% nationally and 36% in California, with home prices not exhibiting stability until the second half of 2010. To date, national home prices have declined by 27%. Fitch Rating's revised peak-to-trough expectation is for prices to decline by 36% from the peak price achieved in mid-2006. The additional 9% decline represents a 12.5% decline from today's levels.'...
  • Two Little-Noted Features Of The Markets And The Economy

    This week I have a very special Outside the Box for you. Peter Bernstein is recognized as one of the more brilliant and insightful analysts of our times. At 89, he has been writing prescient material longer than most of us "young guys" (I am 59, and hope I am still writing at 89, or even able to write!) have been even marginally in the markets. His Economics and Portfolio Strategy Letter is read by the true cognoscenti of the investment world. He has given me permission to reproduce his latest letter in which he offers two insights. Rather than give you some teaser copy, why don't you just jump in a read. And trust me, anything that Peter writes is worth reading more than a few times....
  • Should the Fed be Responsibly Irresponsible?

    This week I offer two short essays for your reading pleasure in Outside the Box. The first is from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the London Telegraph. He gives some more specifics about the situation in Europe I wrote about this weekend.

    He ends with the following sober quote: 'My awful fear is that we will do exactly the opposite, incubating yet another crisis this autumn, to which we will respond with yet further spending. This is the road to ruin.' This is a must read.

    And the second piece? Last week in Outside the Box we looked at an 'Austrian' (economic) view of the inflation/deflation debate from my friends at Hoisington. This week we look at the 180 degree opposite with Keynesian aficionado Paul McCulley, who argues that the Fed should be Responsibly Irresponsible and target higher inflation. This essay has brought some rather heated arguments in print and from some of the people who will be with Paul and me at the annual Maine fishing trip. And you can bet I will put them all together with a little wine to see how the argument ensues. I will report back.

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  • Global Aging and the Crisis of the 2020s

    From the fall of the Roman and the Mayan empires to the Black Death to the colonization of the New World and the youth-driven revolutions of the twentieth century, demographic trends have played a decisive role in many of the great invasions, political upheavals, migrations, and environmental catastrophes of history. By the 2020s, an ominous new conjuncture of demographic trends may once again threaten widespread disruption. I am, of course, talking about global aging, which is likely to have a profound effect on economic growth, living standards, and the shape of the world order.

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    Posted to John Mauldin's Outside the Box by John Mauldin on 01-12-2011
  • Keynesian Confusion

    Michael Lewitt is one of the most provocative writers I know. Her consistently gives me something to chew on with his monthly letter. How he comes up with all those quotes (usually from sources I have never read but should have) amazes me. He has a unique view of the markets as he run Collateralized Debt Obligation funds and really understand the nitty-gritty of the bond and credit markets.

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  • The End of QE2: Major Policy Shift Ahead

    This week’s Outside the Box is from my friend David Galland, an interview he did for The Casey Report, and it represents a philosophical train of thought more in line with Austrian economics and libertarianism than my own. But if we only read what we already think, then how do we learn? It is only when your ideas are challenged and you must determine why the other guys are wrong and you are right, that you can either become more firm in your beliefs, or change. And much of what David says in this interview resonates. (I wrote about the end of QE2 a few weeks ago.)

    The guys at Casey are natural resources, commodities, and precious metals investors. Yet David argues that cash might be the wise thing now, after pounding the table for years on gold. He believes that the end of QE2 will be more important and dramatic than most think. That it is coming to an end I have no doubt, so it is important to think about what the effects, if any, will be. There are those who argue that we can live without it now. I argued (and still do) that we should have never had it. The unintended consequences are the ones I worry about. We just don’t know. It was a crazy experiment, with no understanding of what would really happen. But hoping for the best is not a strategy, so let’s think about it. David provides us with some different ways to look at the process.

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  • Does Unreal GDP Drive Our Policy Choices?

    I am back from Rob Arnott’s conference in Laguna Beach, and I must confess that if I had attended it before I wrote last week’s e-letter I might have had lower odds on the US political class solving the debt crisis, absent a real economic crisis forcing them to. There were several presentations that made the problems quite clear. It remains a tough issue.

    This week’s Outside the Box is a recent white paper by Rob, where he argues that the traditional way we look at GDP is flawed, because it overstates what is happening in the real, private part of the economy, which is the productive part. Government spending is either money collected from the private sector in the form of taxes or borrowed money that future generations must repay. While not likely to become a mainstream economic view, this is very useful for our own thinking about what constitutes productivity and investments. This is a short but powerful piece from one of America’s most honored economic writers.

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  • Greatest Moral Hazard, Says Paul McCulley, Is Austerity Here And Now

    The last Thoughts from the Frontline featured an interview of me by Kate Welling. I promised another interview she did with my friend Paul McCulley, who (warning) is a consummate Keynesian. For him (paraphrasing closely), prescribing austerity for the US is like putting an anexoric patient on a diet. While Paul and I are very good friends, we do not agree on what to do about the current morass. But this is Outside the Box, and the point is to have views that I don’t agree with. And Paul is nothing if not an articulate proponent of the neo-Keynesian view. The original publication of his interview in Kate’s letter drew some very pointed comments. Right up the OTB’s alley.

    Kate Welling is simply the best at doing interviews and teasing out controversy, but her work is hard to for the average person to access, as it is now just for institutional clients. I have convinced her to break out of her shell and offer it to the retail world. She is working on the “details,” such as price, etc., but in the meantime you can go to

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  • Zen Lessons in Market Analysis

    'Everything, including the market, is ultimately empty of a separate self. One market can only be understood and analyzed in the context of other markets and conditions. Supply and demand, in particular, should not be considered in isolation.'

    Long time Outside the Box readers are quite familiar with Dr. John Hussman, as he is a frequent choice for this column. But this week I think he has written one of his bests essays ever. He cleverly weaves in quotes from a Zen master who is his friend and gives us a very fresh look at market analysis. This is a thought piece and you should set aside some time to absorb the lessons. You will be well rewarded.

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  • The Paradox of Deleveraging

    I have often commented about the problem of personal savings. We worry about the lack of savings here in the US, but many do not understand that if everyone started to save 5% of there income immediately that it would seriously impact consumer spending, pushing the US into a recession. It is a paradox, as Paul McCulley points out, that what may be good for the individual may not be good for the collective country. And in this week's Outside the Box, good friend and this week's Maine fishing buddy Paul McCulley writes about another paradox called the Paradox of Deleveraging. This Paradox is at the heart of the credit crisis. Many of you will not like his conclusions, as it calls for the government to step into the breach created by the problem he describes. But as I often point out, the purpose of Outside the Box is to make us think about ideas which may not be in our usual sources of information. Paul is the Managing Director at PIMCO, the world's largest bond manager....
  • The Great Experiment

    There is a reason I call this column Outside the Box. I try to get material that forces us to think outside our normal comfort zones and challenges our common assumptions. And this week's letter from Hoisington Investment Management Company does just that. Let me give you two quotes to pique your interest: 'Monetary policy works by creating the environment for a renewed borrowing and lending cycle. This cycle would require that the debt to GDP ratio, which is already at a record level, grow even higher. Would such an outcome really be that desirable when the controlling problem of the U.S. economy is too much improperly financed debt? If the Fed were able to engender an increase in the debt to GDP ratio, this might merely serve to postpone the reckoning of the current debt levels while laying the foundation for an even more vicious unwinding down the road.' And: 'The only really viable option for federal stimulus is a permanent reduction in the marginal tax rates, as highlighted in the research of Christina Romer, incoming Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. This would have the benefit of raising after tax rates of return, but the drawback in the short run of still having to be financed by an increased budget deficit. Over time, a massive reduction in marginal tax rates would be beneficial, but the operative word is time. Refunds, or transitory tax relief, will have no better results in stemming the recessionary tide in 2009 and 2010 than it did in the spring of 2008.' Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar on the current bailout programs that is not the usual analysis we see in mainstream media. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort....
  • History lesson for economists in thrall to Keynes

    There is a debate in academic circles on the lessons of the current economic crisis. While most ivory tower debates are of little concern to our daily affairs, this debate should concern you, as it will inform those who hold central bank and political power. Remember, there is no playbook of rules for what to do in deflationary, deleveraging recessions. They are making it up as they go along.

    Today we have a short essay by Niall Ferguson published last week in the Financial Times. It speaks for itself, and you should take a few minutes to read it....
  • Weakness Unmatched in 35 Years

    One of the best gauges of an economy is tax collections. No one pays taxes unless they have to, so collections are a real-world, real-time analysis of the US economy. And the best source I know of for tracking taxes is The Liscio Report, by Philippa Dunne & Doug Henwood. Tax collections are down. Philippa and Doug give us the actual numbers, which are not pretty. Bottom line? 'What does this all mean? It suggests that the consumer retrenchment in this recession will be deep and long, and will probably continue into any recovery. The American consumer is no longer the world consumer of last resort, and that's an enormous change for both this country and the rest of the world to get used to.'...
  • The Geopolitics Of China

    No matter where in the world I am, in South Africa, in Europe, in La Jolla, there's one question I get asked over and over, "What about China?" And small wonder. The increasing impact of China in the last generation is just staggering and seemingly accelerating every day. If you're in the market for oil, minerals, arable land, equities or debt, you're bidding against Chinese government-sponsored entities with a $1 trillion warchest. And the list of markets where China is a key player grows every day. Bottom line: whether you're filling up your gas tank or trading credit default swaps, China's decisions impact your pocket book....
  • The Road To Revulsion

    What does a bubble look like and how do they end? In this week's Outside the Box, James Montier of Societe Generale in London looks at not only the psychological analysis, but also at the propensity for commentators to continually proclaim the end of the problem and a resumption of business as usual. He includes a fascinating piece from Marc Faber documenting the various quotes about how well the economy was doing from 1928-32. This makes for fun, if a little sobering, reading. I think you will find this letter very interesting....
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