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  • Whither China?

    All weekend long and this morning as I wake up in Monaco, the number of disparate publications screaming at me about problems in China is just overwhelming. Then I get myself up early to hear a speech by the esteemed British economist Charles Dumas of Lombard Street fame, and I am confronted with even more China. I have been watching China for a long time, expecting a crisis, as I readily admit I simply do not understand a country that has defied so many of the economic laws of gravity for so long. Some kind of return to normal economic paradigms seems almost mandated, but the question has always been when. Have the Chinese discovered some new control mechanism, found some different levers to pull that they should share with the rest of the world, or will we see them revert to something that looks more like whatever it is that passes for "normal" these days? My bet has always been the latter.

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  • Stratfor Third Quarter Forecast

    There are plenty of forecasts out there, but today I send you one you can trust. Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis company, has one of the most rigorous methodologies out there, and their forecasts provide excellent insight into the outcome of world events in the coming quarter.

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  • China: Two Economic Models and the Ideological Divide in Chongqing

    There are political sides in America...and then there are political sides in the communist state of China. Here, it's a matter of the right and the left. In China, it's a matter of private enterprise and strong foreign investment versus highly centralized and debt-heavy state enterprise.

    According to the geopolitical analysis company Stratfor, the left may be losing ground in China, and Beijing may be headed down an economic path that focuses on private enterprise. If the trend becomes the national strategy in the long term, this could mean greater room for private business in China.

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  • Weeks When Decades Happen

    My friends at GaveKal are uniquely positioned to help us think about where we have been in the past decade and where we are going in the next one. Their perch in Hong Kong lets them keep their fingers on China’s pulse, but they also have profound roots in Europe – the Gave family is French – as well as a thorough grasp of the US economy and culture. (Louis Gave, the author of today’s Outside the Box, is a Duke grad.)

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  • Perspectives on the Crisis in Europe

    This week's Outside the Box will be unusual. Rather than one essay, I give you a number of short ones, and links that are representative of the confusion that is Europe, along with a little history. As I noted this weekend, last week's Eurozone announcement was short of details, and very little of the real work had been done. Merkel has to get her own country on board, keep the other nations that are in trouble from demanding haircuts, and keep the markets from trashing Italian and Spanish debt. Berlusconi has to figure out how to get the Italian budget balanced while staying out of jail and "balancing" his social calendar. Maybe he can dollar-cost average with a 70-year-old date? (Sorry, that was snarky, but it is so easy.)

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  • Res Politica versus Res Economica

    Today’s Outside the Box is the latest chapter in my ongoing discussion with Dr. Woody Brock on the rationale of the politics of economics. In this essay, Woody explains how political science has taken a back seat to economics, and how to redress the imbalance we find today between what he terms "Res Politica" (the rule of politics) and "Res Economica" (the rule of economics or money). Where the rubber meets the road here is that our important economic decisions are increasingly being made by politicians (who are not particularly well-schooled in either economics or political science), with consequences that are likely to be dangerous. You will have to put on your thinking cap, but this will provide you with some real insights and food for thought.

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  • China Security Memo: Looking into 'Reverse Mergers' on Wall Street

    The saying goes that you can learn something new every day. If you're paying attention that is - and more importantly if you know where to look. Today I was getting my morning fill of geopolitical intel from my friends over at STRATFOR (on everything from personal security to country economic profiles) and stumbled onto their weekly China Security Memo, this particular edition on Looking into Reverse Mergers on Wall Street. Is this another head-scratcher in the less-than-conventional foreign policy coming from China or a regulatory end-around by some enterprising Chinese companies?  Take a few minutes to read this report, which also goes through everything that happened in China this week that matters.

    This article discusses the SEC's ongoing investigation of the "reverse mergers" where questionable Chinese auditing allowed companies to list on U.S. stock exchanges despite their fraudulent accounts. The report is a superb example of the detail and insight STRATFOR gives its customers. If you're into the idea of learning something new on a daily basis (the desire grows with age, I believe...) you'll enjoy learning about the current state of Chinese regulations (or lack thereof) for companies that list on US stock markets, State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that compete with American businesses, recent bank robberies, tensions with the Catholic church, and bottled water contaminated with E.coli. In other words, you'll definitely meet your novel knowledge quota for the day, all while getting the deepest insight on the security situation in China.

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  • Chavez's Health and Implications for Chinese Investment

    For those of you keeping up with the much-discussed energy deal between China and Russia, you know the many reasons, both geographic and political, why it's unlikely to pan out. The geopolitically savvy folks over at STRATFOR told us about it a couple of weeks ago, and have moved their forecasting on to an existing energy relationship, between China and Venezuela—now potentially uncertain due to Hugo Chavez's precarious position in a Cuban hospital.

    Whether Chavez gets better or not, a political transition is down the line somewhere, and China could lose its current preferential treatment as primary investor in Venezuelan oil. This is the kind of thing we have to know about as investors. Yes, we all know that Chavez is ill. But what, if anything, does that mean for the South American energy sector? What about the future of oil, China, the U.S., and so on? This is the kind of forward-looking analysis you get from a news publication like STRATFOR. It doesn't get any better than these guys.

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  • Shadow over Asia

    This week we look over the Pacific pond to China and Japan, in an interview with my friend Vitaliy Katsenelson by David Galland, who is the managing editor of The Casey Report. Vitaliy is the chief investment officer of Investment Management Associates, Inc., and author of Active Value Investing. Profiled in Barron’s in September 2009, Vitaliy, who was born in Murmansk, Russia, and moved to the U.S. in 1991, is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Colorado at Denver’s Graduate School of Business.

    Long time readers know that I just don’t get China or Japan. I think both are bubbles, but as Vitaliy notes, many bubbles can outlast the reputations of those predicting their demise. Timing is everything.

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  • Looking to 2012: China's Next Generation of Leaders

    The Chinese have a bit of a challenge on their hands. One could reason that as the world's most populous country, China would also have the highest number of individuals living in poverty. However, I was shocked to learn that the number is over 600 million. Talk about a mess. If you do any sort of business, or just have a general interest in the Far East, I recommend you get a heads up on the leadership changes we'll see in the next year.

    Today I'm including an article and a video from STRATFOR, a global intelligence company. I watched the video first - it's an overview of China's new leadership and what that means for the next generation. If you want more analysis (which I definitely did), read the article below too. You'll learn about the deep structural reforms that may be required to prevent China's economy from overheating, as well as the rising influence of the military and how the new leaders will address the flaws in China's economic model.

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  • China's GDP and Questions of Strength

    Today I'd like us to think about sustainability. The Mayfly is a species of insect that goes from egg to death sometimes in as little as 30 minutes, and never more than a day. Take note, because as investors we have to be wary of the same rapid fluxes in economies. I'm of course speaking of the hype surrounding the Chinese economy lately. Everyone is talking about China this week, and rightfully so, as its GDP is nearing Japan's and could become the second largest in the world. But is it sustainable? Or a boom-and-bust similar to the Mayfly?

    I'm sending you an interview with a STRATFOR analyst who, unlike the hype, says China's economy is weak and unsustainable. Find out what indicators he's looking at by ««watching this video»». While you're at it, sign up to receive their free weekly intelligence reports. You'll enjoy the unique & global perspective.

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  • Dispatch: China Factors in U.S.-South Korean Relations

    The key to being a great chess player is to think ahead. True grandmasters think ahead not by just one or two steps, but a full game. The key to winning is determining the most likely moves of your opponent, among what seem at first glance to be hundreds of possibilities. The same can be said of finance. Knowing what to expect from key world players is critical to investing.

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  • Asia's Paradigm Shift

    This week we turn our eyes to Asia as my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal gives us a very thought-provoking piece on the problems of investing in Asia, with a focus on China. While there are real opportunities, Louis also sees some speed bumps. Those Asian ETFs may not be the winners a lot of people think for structural reasons.

    I was to thank the team at GaveKal for letting me reproduce their research as typically it is only available to their clients who pay a rather hefty sum.

    This has been a productive weekend book writing wise. I am down to finishing 2 chapters which are mostly written and two long flights to Vancouver in front of me. Then the hard part of re-writes but I can see the end of the race. Have a great week, and if you are in Vancouver be sure to say hello.

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  • The Doctor and the Dealman: An Energy Update

    It has been a busy day in Rome, doing the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's and the Trevi Fountain. But I have to find time to get you your Outside the Box and have I got a great one for you. David Galland of Casey Research was kind enough to let me use an interview he did with two of his energy research staff normally only available to his subscribers. A big thank you to David.

    This is a special treat for Outside the Box readers, as they talk about the future of the energy markets. I have been following their work for some time and I think they are the real deal if you are looking for an energy letter to regularly read....
  • The Commodities Con

    A quick introduction for this week's Outside the Box. This is from my London Partner Niels Jensen, talking about the problems with long only commodity funds. This is something I discuss frequently but have not written about in some time. Quite simply, many of the commodity ETFs do not deliver what they promise and in fact many of the inverse funds can lose you money even when you make the right macro call.

    Niels gives us a very good explanation of why this is so. So for those of you who have 'diversified' into commodity ETFs (not actively managed funds!) or are thinking about it you might really want to read this.

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