April 2011 - 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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  • Iraq, Iran and the Next Move

    For those of you that have read about my new book, Endgame, you know I make the point that, while there are no good options for dealing with the debt crisis, the worst choice of all is doing nothing. In today's Outside the Box, you'll see a similar argument—but this "lesser of two evils" situation deals with the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, and the ever-present Iranian push to dominate the Persian Gulf region.

    George Friedman—my friend, and founder of STRATFOR, a global intelligence company—discusses the potential "bad options" the U.S. has in its attempt to rein in Iran, and arrives at what he considers the least detrimental: negotiation. The worst of course is doing nothing, thus allowing Iran to increase its hold on the entire region—a region on which the global economy is dependent for its oil... You can see why all this matters.

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  • The Mess in Europe

    The disconnect in Europe just gets worse and worse, as I sadly predicted at least a few years ago, and have made a big deal out of over the last year, with the very pointed note that a European banking crisis is the #1 monster in my worry closet. Today, within 15 minutes of each other, I ran across the following three notes, from Zero Hedge, the London Telegraph, and the Financial Times, with a quote from Bloomberg as well. Read them all. And then try and figure out how they can all get what they want. There are going to be tears and lots of them somewhere. Greek three-year rates are now at 21%. And so I decided to link these three short pieces into your Outside the Box this week. To kick things off, a few teaser quotes and observations:

    “On Saturday Jurgen Stark, an executive board member of the ECB, warned that a restructuring of debt in any of the troubled eurozone countries could trigger a banking crisis even worse than that of 2008.

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  • Charles Plosser and the 50% Contraction in the Fed’s Balance Sheet

    Dr. John Hussman is no stranger to Outside the Box readers. And his recent posting has my mind reeling. In essence he is saying that if the Fed wants to stop the QE and allow rates to rise, they must either reverse the QE or bring on inflation. And he does it with numbers and his usual strong reasoning. I really did read this 3-4 times, thinking through the implications.

    “There are a few possible outcomes as we move forward. One is that the economy weakens, and the Fed decides to leave interest rates unchanged, or even to initiate an additional round of quantitative easing. In this event, it's quite possible that we still would not observe much inflation, provided that interest rates are held down far enough. Unfortunately, the larger the monetary base, the lower the interest rate required for a non-inflationary outcome. T-bills are already at less than 4 basis points. In the event of even another $200 billion in quantitative easing, the liquidity preference curve suggests that Treasury bill yields would have to be held at literally a single basis point in order to avoid inflationary pressures.”

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  • STRATFOR's 2011 Second Quarter Forecast

    I always look forward the beginning of a new quarter, because it gives me a chance to read STRATFOR's update of their annual forecast, which I shared with you in January. Their quarterly forecast explores developing geopolitical trends in each region of the world.  In recent months and quarters I've noticed a much wider recognition in published discussions of "geopolitical risk" as it relates to investments.  Of course geopolitical risk is nothing new to my long-time readers who've been plugged into STRATFOR for years.

    This Q2 forecast is a long read, but it addresses everything from China's battle with inflation, to Russia's economic opportunity, to the stalemate in Libya's civil war. They do a fantastic, and usually spot-on, job of telling you what to look out for.  (And when they aren't spot-on, they're up-front about what they missed and why).

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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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  • Birthdays and Investment Risk

    “Tail risk (the risk of large losses) is dramatically underestimated by many investors and the tools we have available to manage such risks are hopelessly inadequate. Financial theory which is taught at business schools and universities all over the world is plainly wrong.”

    This week we turn to my friend Niels Jensen of Absolute Return Partners in London for our Outside the Box offering, in which he looks at tail risk, Modern Portfolio Theory, and a risk he identifies as Birthday Risk. It is a lively and easy read, which is also designed to make you think about your basic investment principles.

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