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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • The Tragic Decline of Gibraltar’s Spanish Neighbor

    I was on the ground in Spain a few weeks back, and then I ran into this piece in Spiegel Online about a small, struggling town on the Spanish border with (British) Gibraltar. This essay resonates in some of the same ways as the Michael Lewis piece on Greece. This is just one town, and Spain has many regions, some more prosperous than others; but in a country where there is 23% unemployment and 50% among youth, there is plenty of suffering everywhere. The general story is one of deep problems, especially with regard to inefficient labor laws.

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  • Flirtin’ with Disaster

    This week I offer a main course, a veritable piece de resistance, for Outside the Box readers, from my friend Rich Yamarone. Rich is Chief Economist for Bloomberg and one really sharp talent. He helps write Bloomberg Brief: Economics, a daily notebook that comes out every business morning with an all-encompassing view of what's happening and will happen.

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  • U.S. Consumers: Still Key to the Outlook

    What I like most about Gary Shilling's economic analysis is that it's thorough. In the piece that follows – an excerpt from Gary's monthly INSIGHT – he ranges from the importance of US consumer spending and the unemployment rate, to the actions of the Fed, to business cost cutting and productivity, to the housing crisis and household debt, to state and local government fiscal issues, to US exports – Etc.! So by time he gets ready to deliver conclusions, you know they're well-supported. And Gary's overall conclusion here, regarding the rest of 2012, is a strong one and maybe not quite what you'd expect.

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  • The Pain in Spain

    I want to emphasize that I do not think Spain is hopeless. Rather, it has a narrow set of limited options that will require a great deal of austerity and economic pain on the part of Spain and significant help from the rest of Europe, combined with the forbearance and patience of the bond market or massive buying of Spanish bonds by the ECB for an extended period of time. I think it will need to be the latter, as the bond market is on the brink of breaking down on Spanish debt, failing a realistic path to economic balance and growth. The way ahead is most difficult and treacherous. It appears to me that at the end of the day only ECB participation can buy Spain the time it needs. If they give Spain the time, it can get through. But the pain will then be spread to the valuation of the euro and thus the entire eurozone.

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  • Hoisington First-Quarter Review and Outlook

    I am doing a road show for Bloomberg in San Francisco, with 8 meetings today and a few more tomorrow. Bloomberg is marketing a very high-end new service called Mauldin Research Trades. My partners Gary Habib and Peter Mauthe have assembled an all-star team of technical trading analysts (who between them have written about 20 books on technical trading), who give us "conviction" trades each and every week. We publish the letter on Sunday evening. I am very pleased with the results so far. If you are interested, contact your Bloomberg Tradebook representative or drop me a note and we will get them in touch with you.

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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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  • American Gridlock, Part 2

    Today we dive into Part 2 of Woody Brock’s notes from his new book, American Gridlock (www.amazon.com/gridlock). He looks at what we can do in the future to prevent another crisis like we had in 2008, why we need to change, how we bargain with China (will be very controversial, in China at least!), what capitalism really is, and then he addresses the thorny issue of what it means to distribute wealth fairly. What can be said to those concerned with the top 1% of the population owning a grossly disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth?

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  • American Gridlock

    How do we resolve the current political gridlock over healthcare, the economy, and a myriad of other problems? It is clear that there are no easy solutions, and putting off making choices will just make the ultimate cost we pay that much more expensive.

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  • Working Out of Debt

    This week we look at a report called “Working Out of Debt,” about debt and deleveraging, from the McKinsey Global Institute. This is a well-done summary of their longer paper, which has been updated, called “Debt and deleveraging: Uneven progress on the path to growth.” I discussed the original paper both in my regular letter and in Endgame. It is one of the best, most definitive pieces on the topic I have read. For those trying to understand how the deleveraging process will affect their particular world, I think it is a must-read. I have been spending more and more time thinking about the whole process of deleveraging, and am coming to think deleveraging is the critical and fundamental factor shaping the economic environment and impacting every decision countries and businesses are faced with. This paper was done by Karen Croxson, Susan Lund, and Charles Roxburgh; and they are to be especially commended for their insight and work.

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  • Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook

    The "Quarterly Review and Outlook" from Hoisington Investment Management is one of the most significant pieces that crosses my desk – I try and drop everything else as soon as possible. This quarter's is no exception. The authors, Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington, get right down to brass tacks with their opening sentence: "As the U.S. economy enters 2012, the gross government debt-to-GDP ratio stands near 100%." They cite an influential 2010 historical study of high-debt-level economies around the world, by Professors Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, that concluded that when a country's gross government debt rises above 90% of GDP, "median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more."

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  • The Unintended Empire

    A new year is almost upon us, so now seems like a perfect time to step back from the (many) crises at hand and take stock of the big picture. According to my friend & fellow thinker George Friedman, the big picture of the next 10 years is this: America will dominate, and the American president will have to figure out how to act as global emperor without admitting that's what he is.

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  • Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook

    Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington of Hoisington Investment Management write a “Quarterly Review and Outlook” that is a must-read for me. This quarter they focus on US monetary policy, noting that “After peaking at 1.69 in the second quarter of 2010, M2 velocity declined for four consecutive quarters, and we estimate that a major contraction in velocity to 1.59 is likely for the third quarter.” (I mentioned the importance of the velocity of money in judging inflation vs. deflation prospects in this week’s e-letter, too.)

    They say, “If our analysis of a new contraction in GDP is correct, the U.S. economy should be viewed as operating in the midst of a long-term slump, regardless of terminology.”

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  • Breakfast with Dave

    The question we will ask ourselves in 20 years is, “Where were you when they downgraded the US and the Fed?” This week’s Outside the Box is from David Rosenberg. He has made his letter public and graciously given me permission (at 34,000 feet ) to send it to you.

    I thought about writing an immediate response to this weekend’s events but decided to wait and meditate on what has transpired. Clearly, we are at the beginning of the Endgame. And that saddens me. The events of the weekend were hotly discussed at the Shadow Fed meeting in Maine. My youngest son, Trey, was paying attention this year. Last night he said, “Dad, it is good for you that you are right with your book, but I don’t think it’s good for the rest of us.” Out of the mouths of babes.

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  • Three Competing Theories

    Long-time readers are familiar with the wisdom of Lacy Hunt. He is a regular feature of Outside the Box. He writes a quarterly piece for Hoisington Asset Management in Austin, and this is one of his better ones. Read it twice.

    “While the massive budget deficits and the buildup of federal debt, if not addressed, may someday result in a substantial increase in interest rates, that day is not at hand. The U.S. economy is too fragile to sustain higher interest rates except for interim, transitory periods that have been recurring in recent years. As it stands, deflation is our largest concern …”

    As I write, Europe is starting to unravel. This is going to be much worse than 2008, at least as far as Europe is concerned, and odds are high that it will be very bad for the US. And the markets are still acting as if the problems in Europe can be resolved. The recent bank stress tests were a joke, as they assumed no Greek or Irish defaults. This simply can’t be. There is a banking crisis of massive proportions in our future.

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  • Egypt's Next Crisis: The Economy

    Mubarak resigned, journalists packed their gear, and CNN went back to talking about obesity statistics - but Egypt's troubles are far from over. After weeks of protests (leading to strikes and, understandably, no tourists), the country's economy took an estimated 1.5 billion-dollar punch to the face.

    This appears to be the tip of the iceberg for Egypt's economical woes, however - as you'll read in the piece below from STRATFOR, a global intelligence company I've come to know and love. Mubarak's gone... as are his son's banking reforms. Resurrected is the military's practice of borrowing money from banks with no intention of paying it back - likely leading to a debt level of bailout proportions. The nation's not about to find the extra $16 billion a year it needs in its couch cushions.

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