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  • Sorting Out the Euro Mess

    I had the pleasure of spending the morning and part of the afternoon today with Louis Gave and Anatole Kaletsky at a seminar here in Dallas; and we shared a long lunch, where Europe and China were the topics of conversation. So, with their permission, here is their latest "Five Corners," in which Charles Gave and Anatole Kaletsky discuss last week's summit, and then engage in an internal debate about whether Italy really has a significant trade deficit with Germany. As I expect from GaveKal, it's not your typical analysis. And since I have to run to dinner – and glean more insights from their team (there will be homework when I get back!), this introduction to Outside the Box is short, and we can jump right into today's piece. Have a great week.

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  • The Euro Debate Gets Philosophical

    Europe is rapidly approaching the denouement, the Endgame, of its currency experiment. The outcome is not clear, at least to your humble analyst, as the debates rage and there are huge pluses and minuses the 17 nations must decide upon. But the proverbial road down which the can is tumbling and clattering, kicked along haphazardly, is coming to its end, and soon a rather sharp turn, either to the left or to the right, will be required. Let us hope they choose wisely.

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  • Simon Hunt November/December Economic Report

    I have been reading and talking with Simon Hunt for a long time. He is a very thoughtful Brit who spends a lot of time in China and thinks about copper and commodities and cycles. He has enough seasoning to have seen a few cycles himself. This piece summarizes rather well the view that he has expressed for some time. And while I am generally skeptical of relying too much on cycles for specifics (they work until they don't), I think Simon has some very powerful conclusions. From his summary:

    "The world is in a balance sheet depression which will make a second and perhaps more dangerous credit crisis almost inevitable. That should break out next year or in 2013.

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  • It’s All Greek To Me

    Long-time readers will be familiar with Michael Lewitt, one of my favorite thinkers and analysts. He has gone off on his own to write his letter, and I am encouraging him to write even more. I call Michael a thinker because he really does. He reads a lot of thought-provoking tomes and then thinks about them. And then writes, making his readers think. The world needs more Michael Lewitts.

    Today, he roams the world, commenting as he goes, starting of course with Europe. I have permission to use the first half of this most recent letter as today’s Outside the Box, leaving off the investment recommendations that he shares with his subscribers. If you are interested you can subscribe at www.thecreditstrategist.com.

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  • Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

    Do we need a law that makes it illegal to push a moose out of a moving aircraft? In baseball, what are the odds of a perfect game? How difficult will it be to solve the problems of the Eurozone? These and other issues are meditated upon by Grant Williams in his Things That Make You Go Hmmm… letter, which is this week’s Outside the Box. Maybe it was the baseball set-up (as my Rangers battle the Cardinals in the World Series) or that I keep getting asked about Europe here in New Orleans at the 2011 Oppenheimer Wealth Management Roundtable, but Grant really pulled me through his weekly missive when I got started, and I believe you will enjoy it as well. Long and short, Grant lays out the problems that we face in a very realistic assessment. I will also point out that he makes me look like a euro-optimist.

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  • Where Are We Compared to Sept. 15, 2008?

    The developed world seems to be focused on Europe, and while the next crisis in indeed brewing there, we must not forget that Asia is a large part of the future and major contributor to world GDP. My friends at GaveKal are based in Hong Kong and have staff in most Asian countries or are in them on a regular basis, so I read their Asian views with interest. Today's Outside the Box is their latest Five Corners – Asia edition, where they look at China, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as Asian growth, contrasting it to that of the "developed world."

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  • Navigating the Eurozone Crisis and Preparing for Greece’s Failure

    Folks, you hear a lot about the eurozone crisis, but what you don't run across very often is a coherent idea on how to move forward. My friends at STRATFOR, a private intelligence company, have done us all the courtesy of saying out loud what everyone else shies away from: Eject Greece from the eurozone.

    It's not pretty. It belies the lovely concept of a unified and prosperous Europe. And the worst part: it comes with a big fat price tag, of the 2-trillion-euro variety. But it may be the only way to steer the train before it derails completely.

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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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  • Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

    I love Grant Williams and his writing in his letter Things That Make You Go Hmmm... And this week's Outside the Box is the first section from his recent post, where he starts with a brief history of Gadhafi and ends up giving us a tutorial on oil pricing. This may be "inside baseball" (too much detail) for some of you; but these details are important, as the very ground of oil pricing is shifting away from the traditional sources. What will the mainstream media do? Wonder when they will shift, which will result in a LOT higher costs for most of the world. Besides, this is a fun read, and Grant is a great writer.

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  • Germany's Choice: Part 2

    For today's special edition OTB, let's turn our fiscal eye across the pond to all that's going haywire in Europe. But not the continent's banking crisis, per se. Today's piece takes a broad look at who's really running the show. I'll give you a hint - they've done it before, and it wasn't too long ago. The folks at STRATFOR (a global intelligence publication) have spent the better part of two years saying that Germany will run Europe. The newly redesigned EFSF (European Financial Security Facility) can be considered concrete evidence of such.

    From Berlin's point of view, the Eurozone is its sphere of influence, and its preservation is in Germany's national security interest. It's a new Europe, where Germany's not just the checkbook anymore, but holds some reins.

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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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  • The Stark Choice for Europe

    This will be one of the more controversial Outside the Box posts in a great long time. Indeed, I debated with myself at some length. It will make some readers mad, but I decided it is more important to make most readers think. And, as it happens, there are parts of this week’s essay that I rather aggressively disagree with. That being said, there is a great deal of truth here. This represents a serious body of thought that is being debated, and we need to hear all sides, rather than just the ones we like.

    Michael Hudson is a research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, which is a serious place, so this is no ill-informed screed. I generally like their stuff.

    Hudson first lays the European crisis at the feet of banks and the institutions (ECB, IMF, and the EU) that are taking the Greek (and other) bank debt and putting it into public hands. He has a very real point. Then he points out that Greece is far better off just walking away, a la Iceland (at least read the last part of this post, on Iceland). And in polls he cites, 85% of the Greek people are against taking on the debt and paying the banks.

    As I wrote last week, there is a revolution going on all over Europe, slowly building up as people realize that the “solution” being offered benefits banks and not German taxpayers or Greek creditors. Ireland will be watching. There is no easy way out. If there is a referendum on this new “troika” proposal, it is likely to lose. This is not over.

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  • Macro E.U. — D.O.A.

    I am attending the Global Interdependence Center’s latest conference here in Philadelphia, writing you from the Admiral’s Club on my way to Boston. The chatter last night at dinner and between sessions was focused on the risks in Europe. I did an interview with Aaron Task on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker, where I noted that European leaders are starting to use the word containedwhen they talk about Greece. Shades of Bernanke and subprime. This too will not be contained.

    And that brings us to this week’s Outside the Box. Greg Weldon has graciously allowed me to use his latest missive on Europe’s woes. A teaser:

    “The EU, like the US, suffers from what we might call the 'Cyrenaic Syndrome', a dynamic linked to the ancient Greek philosophers Aristippus and Hegesias of Cyrene, who, in 3rd and 4th Centuries BC, hypothesized that the goal of life was the avoidance of pain and suffering. Addicts accomplish this thru substance abuse. The EU is trying to accomplish this thru pure denial, and an outright refusal to accept that austerity, like sobriety, is the ONLY way to actually deal with the problems it faces.”

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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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  • The Three Stages of Delusion

    I am back from the Forbes cruise to Mexico and starting to deal with a thousand things, but first on the list is making sure you get this week’s Outside the Box. And a good one it is. In fact, it is two short pieces coming to us from friends based in London over the pond.

    Both of them have to deal with the unfolding crisis that is Europe, which is going to unfold for several years as they lurch from solution to solution. The first is from Dylan Grice of Societe Generale and reminds us why we should put no stock in what leaders say about a crisis. He has lined up the statements of leaders from one crisis after another. He finds a simple, repeating pattern. And shows where we are now.

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