April 2009 - John Mauldin's Outside the Box

John Mauldin reads hundreds of articles, reports, books, newsletters, etc. and each week he brings one essay from another analyst that should stimulate your thinking. John will not agree with all the essays, and some will make us uncomfortable, but the varied subject matter will offer thoughtful analysis that will challenge our minds to think Outside The Box.

John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • On Energy Production and US Intelligence Failures

    I send you Outside the Box each week not to make you comfortable but to make you think. Usually it is on some financial topic, but life is more than investments. Economics is not an isolated discipline (more like an art form I think) so we have to have a real understanding of the world around us. This week I offer two essays which made me both think and reflect. We live in a world which wants easy solutions to complex problems, and wish as we may, will not get easy solutions which will work.

    The first essay is by Pewter Huber on the reality of energy production. We all want to be able to "go green." How realistic is that? The second is by my friend George Friedman on torture and US intelligence failures.

    Peter Huber is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and the coauthor, most recently, of The Bottomless Well. His article develops arguments that he made in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate in January. George is well known to OTB readers. He is president of Stratfor and was with the CIA (as was his wife Meredith) before they founded Stratfor, what I think of as the premier private intelligence agency in the world.

    I suggest you put on your thinking caps and take some time to read both of these very important essays, and enjoy your week. I am off to Orlando and the CFA conference....
  • Second Quarter Forecast 2009: Global Trends

    I've been in this business a long time. Some days it feels like a very long time. But never in all the years that I've been in the financial markets have I felt like business per se has less impact on my investment decisions. Let me explain.

    GM shares have gone from being a claim on earnings from car sales to being a call option on whether the US government will extend another lifeline. Banks' capital structures have gone from being the province of Boards of Directors and CFOs to the "expertise" of Congressional committees and appointed regulators. Used to be when I thought about Financial Centers New York and London came to mind. Instead now I have to think about Washington and Brussels.

    My friend George Friedman and his team at STRATFOR are where I turn when I need help thinking about these new realities. George's team provides me context and understanding of the environment in which financial developments are going to take place. I may tweak him about his ties, but if you saw George speak at my conference in La Jolla, you know that he's an absolutely compelling speaker. And it's small wonder that his latest book spent those weeks on the New York Times bestseller list too.

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  • Quarterly Review and Outlook - First Quarter 2009

    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 does just that. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation and our experience to be rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation.

    Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar on why they think it is deflation that will ultimately be the problem and not inflation we are dealing with today. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort.

    Now, if you put all of the various inputs together, Hoisington and Hunt show that theory suggests we will soon be dealing with deflation. It's counter- intuitive to what we hear today, which is why the Bank for International Settlements used the stagflation word in a recent report. The transition that is coming will not be comfortable....
  • Thoughts on the Market Rebound

    This week we will look at two shorter essays for this edition of Outside the Box. The first is some thoughtful words by Tom Au on whether or not we have put in a true bottom for the market. I particularly want you to read his thoughts on what earnings will look like going forward, and whether we can get back to the highs in corporate earnings we saw in 2006.

    Tom is the executive vice-president of R. W. Wentworth, a contributor to Real Money at TheStreet.com and the author of 'A Modern Approach to Graham and Dodd Investing'

    In last Friday's letter I mentioned an article by William Hester, CFA, who is the Senior Financial Analyst at the Hussman Funds. While I quoted a few paragraphs from his essay, on reflection I think I will re-produce it below, as this is a very important concept. I have written in past letters and in Bull's Eye Investing about how powerful a driver earnings surprises can be (both positive and negative). Powerful bear and bull markets develop when there are numerous surprises in the same direction, re-enforcing market psychology.

    So, read Hester's essay with the knowledge of what Au writes about earnings. I think the two make a very powerful, thought-provoking concept. And I am off to Europe....
  • Obama's Strategy and the Summits

    A long-time religious land bridge between the Islamic and Western worlds, Turkey now finds itself an economic gatekeeper, a US-backed contender for the EU and the only key that could unlock Europe from dependence on Russian resources. The value of your dollar is intrinsically linked to last week’s summits—the most important multinational summits in history.

    I’d like to share with you an article by my friend George Friedman at STRATFOR. It delves into the Summits (G20, NATO, bilaterals) and explores the connections between finance and geopolitics. In this case, it boils down to two string-holding puppeteers: Germany and Russia. Germany, the largest exporter in the world, is happy to up its production while the US spreads its dollar paper-thin by contributing to an IMF fund that will bail out countries who will in turn spend their money in Germany’s already tremendous export sector. Russia, the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, too stands to benefit from US contributions to the IMF pot, as their slice of the pie gets bigger with the pan—as long as Turkey keeps her pipes closed....
  • Fighting Recklessness with Recklessness

    This week we visit some very thoughtful analysis by an old friend of Outside the Box, Dr. John Hussman of the Hussman Funds (http://www.hussmanfunds.com/index.html). Is the new PPIP program and related activities likely to help or hurt the situation? Will this help keep banks for bankruptcy or will it push the FDIC into insolvency requiring massive tax payer cash. This week's Outside the Box is brief, but poignant....