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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • An Attempt to Think Through the Greek Crisis

    Today I am sitting listening to Robert Merkle lecture on nanotechnology, part of a 9 day long series of lectures on how accelerating change in technologies of all types will affect our world. 15 hour days and intense discussions are stretching my brain, but I still have to make sure you get your Outside the Box. Fortunately, I came across today's OTB last week from my friends at GaveKal, where they offer a way to think about the Greek crisis and what it means for all European bonds.

    There is a lot of allegations about manipulation of the European bonds. Its those nasty traders. GaveKal shows us data that bond yields are actually quite logical given the debt of various countries. But they also, as part of their conclusions, warn us.

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  • A Five-Step Guide to Contagion

    We were all assured by Ben Bernanke that the subprime problem would be contained. In this week's Outside the Box, my good friend Todd Harrison, founder and CEO of Minyanville (www.minyanville.com) wonders about what contagion from Greece and sovereign debt crisis would look like. Todd is a very thoughtful investor and trader, and someone who I pay attention to. He has created a community of analysts and traders at www.minyanville.com that is quite unique. They graciously post my work each week as well as that of a lot of really interesting people from all over. Plus, they offer running commentary by dozens of analysts on what's happening in the markets real time. There is something for everyone, even a place to help teach your kids about money and finance. Check it out.

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  • If PIIGS Could Fly

    I wrote about Greece in last week's letter. Then I ran across this column in the Financial Times by my friend Mohammed El-Erian, chief executive of Pimco, and someone who qualifies to be introduced as one of the smartest men on the planet. It is short and to the point. (www.pimco.com)

    Then, somehow my London partner, Niels Jensen of Absolute Return Partners found the time to write a letter while we were running around Europe. As we had a lot of conversations with some very key players, and a lot of debate, the letter reflects a lot of what we learned, as well as further documents the serious straits that European nations face in the coming years due to their debt and deficits. It is not just a US or Japanese problem. I have worked closely with Niels for years and have found him to be one of the more savvy observers of the markets I know. You can see more of his work at www.arpllp.com and contact them at info@arpllp.com.

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  • Will The Three Trends of 2009 Prevail in 2010?

    Today I am speaking at a local conference here in Dallas for my friends Charles and Louis Gave of GaveKal along with George Friedman of Stratfor, and get to finally meet Anatole Kaletsky. They graciously allowed me to send their latest Five Corners report as this week's Outside the Box. I find their research to be very thought-provoking as they are one of the main sources of optimism in my ususal readings (except for their very correct and profitable views on the European debt of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, [Ireland?], Greece and Spain).

    The GaveKal team is scattered all over the globe (and based in Hong Kong), and make my paripatetic travel schedule seem small change, not only being in scores of countries but talking to the movers and shakers in both finance and politics. This is an amazing advantage in information gathering. Thus they have a very global view of the world and tend to spot trends before most analysts have picked up on them.

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  • A Country for Old Men and a Bit of Samba

    We all know that a large wave of Baby Boomers in the US are approaching retirement. But what about the rest of the world? And what happens when those retirees need to spend out of savings? There is more than just a credit crisis and a government deficit crisis in our future. A rising level of retirrees to workers is happening even as I write. And the US is not, for once, the center of the problem. As this week's writer of your Outside the Box Niels Jensen explains, we cannot all export our way out of the problem. There is a global adjustment that must happen and when it does, it will have serious consequences for all. This week's letter is guaranteed to make you think. Set aside a few minutes to do so.

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  • Should the Fed be Responsibly Irresponsible?

    This week I offer two short essays for your reading pleasure in Outside the Box. The first is from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the London Telegraph. He gives some more specifics about the situation in Europe I wrote about this weekend.

    He ends with the following sober quote: 'My awful fear is that we will do exactly the opposite, incubating yet another crisis this autumn, to which we will respond with yet further spending. This is the road to ruin.' This is a must read.

    And the second piece? Last week in Outside the Box we looked at an 'Austrian' (economic) view of the inflation/deflation debate from my friends at Hoisington. This week we look at the 180 degree opposite with Keynesian aficionado Paul McCulley, who argues that the Fed should be Responsibly Irresponsible and target higher inflation. This essay has brought some rather heated arguments in print and from some of the people who will be with Paul and me at the annual Maine fishing trip. And you can bet I will put them all together with a little wine to see how the argument ensues. I will report back.

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  • A Tale of Two Depressions

    This week's Outside the box looks at some very interesting research done by two economic historians, Barry Eichengreen of the University of California at Berkeley and Kevin O'Rourke of Trinity College, Dublin They give us comparisons between the Great Depression and today's downturn. They continue to update their data from time to time, the link to their work is at http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3421. I have not previously heard of www.voxeu.org, but it is a collection of the work of well regarded international economists that seems quite interesting for those who enjoy readings in the dismal science.

    This week's OTB will print long, but it is primarily charts. Please note that I have re-arranged some of the new charts to cut down on space because of some duplications. Word count is not all that much and it reads well. I will be referring to their work in future letters as well. Have a great week!...
  • Fear for a Lost Decade

    Before we get into this week's Outside the Box, let me give you a few pieces of data that came across my desk this morning, which will help set the stage for the OTB offering.

    Fitch (the ratings agency), in a downgrade of yet another 543 mortgage-backed securities of 2005-07 vintage, gives us the following side notes: 'The home price declines to date have resulted in negative equity for approximately 50% of the remaining performing borrowers in the 2005-2007 vintages. In addition to continued home price deterioration, unemployment has risen significantly since the third quarter of last year, particularly in California where the unemployment rate has jumped from 7.8% to 11%... The projected losses also reflect an assumption that from the first quarter of 2009, home prices will fall an additional 12.5% nationally and 36% in California, with home prices not exhibiting stability until the second half of 2010. To date, national home prices have declined by 27%. Fitch Rating's revised peak-to-trough expectation is for prices to decline by 36% from the peak price achieved in mid-2006. The additional 9% decline represents a 12.5% decline from today's levels.'...
  • The Geography of Recession

    One of the first things you learn about analyzing a company is how to dissect a balance sheet. What assets and liabilities can be deployed by a company to create equity over time? I've enclosed a fascinating variant on this process. Take a look at how STRATFOR has analyzed the "geographic balance sheets" of the US, Russia, China, and Europe to understand why different countries' economies have suffered to varying degrees from the current economic crisis.

    As investors, it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that can provide us profitable opportunities, and it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that makes STRATFOR such an important part of my investment decision making. The key to investment profits is thinking differently and thinking earlier than the next guy. STRATFOR's work exemplifies both these traits....
  • 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....
  • Europe On the Ropes

    This week we look at the European bank markets through the eyes of my London partner Niels Jensen, head of Absolute Return Partners. I continue to believe that this is a brewing crisis which could have far more significant implications for the global economy than the Asian Crisis of 1998. In this week's Outside the Box, Niels has compiled a sobering set of data that suggests that only massive government involvement in Europe on a scale that is unprecedented will keep the wheels from coming off in Europe and the global economy. I have worked closely with Niels for years and have found him to be one of the more savvy observers of the markets I know....
  • EU Summit: What is Not Being Talked About

    There are plenty of sources out there that are happy to tell you what's happening in the world, and much of it matters. But oftentimes, what's much more important is the dog that didn't bark. Remember Enron's undisclosed subsidiaries? Or the off-balance sheet holdings of just about every financial services firm? Sherlock Holmes uses the dog that didn't bark to solve the mystery -- the dog had to know the intruder. My friend George Friedman's company, Stratfor, uses the dog that didn't bark to highlight issues that are equally critical to the global economy -- that aren't being discussed. Traditional sources let me mitigate known risks. Stratfor tells me about the risks and opportunities I might not even be aware of. I'm including an example below: Stratfor's EU Summit: What is Not Being Talked About. As this analysis demonstrates, normal reporting on what was discussed might be helpful, but it's the missing topics -- those that the media misses -- that you really need to think about....
  • Eyeing Opportunities in the Global Financial Crisis

    As various companies go hat in hand to Washington for a bailout, a recurring topic is what guaranty do the taxpayers get that they're not just throwing more money down a hole. Good question. Who wants warrants or preferred shares if the company is doomed anyway? What you're seeing take place are negotiated backstops between the US Government and pools of capital. A couple of examples: The Big 3 may get a bailout. Financially the US taxpayer will get a stake - in what will surely be radically reshaped companies. Citibank just got a large infusion from Saudi Arabia's Prince al-Waleed bin Talal al-Saud - just days before a US government orchestrated rescue helped rocket the share price. Maybe these are just coincidental moves. Maybe not. What we're witnessing isn't finance or investment as usual. We're watching a shift to a managed economic structure, where government officials determine who will live and who will die. It's a shift from investments to agreements, where having access to large pools of ready cash is the ultimately persuasive argument. And lacking access means doing whatever you're told....
  • Obama's Challenge

    With the election of a new US President, everyone is focused on the 'First 100 Days.' How Obama transitions into the presidency impacts not just the U.S. but the entire global system. What happens to U.S. relations with Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan? What's going to happen at Treasury and to all the programs addressing the financial crisis? What's going to emerge from the next G20 summit? You need to read the analysis below, written by my good friend George Friedman at Stratfor. He details the immediate issues facing the president-elect, including one of the stickiest: Europe's desire for a global banking regulatory regimen. How will Obama respond to European pressure? George has built his company Stratfor and its reputation on forecasting the future, and I'm amazed at how often he's right -- on broad themes and specific events....
  • When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

    Can the credit crisis get any worse? In this week's Outside the Box my London partner Niels Jensen shows that it indeed can. Banks, and mainly European banks, have large exposure to emerging market debt of all types through both sovereign, corporate and individual loans. Just as banks have had to write down large losses from the subprime crisis and other related problems, next will come a wave of potential losses from yet another source. Niels then goes on to give us a look the size and problems with hedge fund deleveraging. Altogether, this is a very interesting letter and one that is written from a non-US point of view that I think you will find instructive....