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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • The Death of Capital

    Was it only last week I was expressing outrage that US taxpayers would have to pick up the check for Greek profligacy in the form of IMF guarantees? This morning we wake to up the sound of $250 BILLION in IMF guarantees for a European rescue fund, most of which will go to countries that are eventually (in my opinion) going to default. That is $50 billion in US taxpayer guarantees. Not sure what that translates into for Britain or Canada or Australia.

    I can swallow the Fed dollar swaps to the ECB. Don't really like it, but I can deal with it, as I don't think it will ultimately put US tax-payers at risk, as long as the swaps are in dollar terms. But the IMF bailout is just wrong.

    Interestingly, the euro shot up on the announcement in what was now clearly short covering. As I write this, it is almost back down to where it started. That seems to me to be a vote of 'I don't believe you.' We will see. But if the ECB actually goes ahead and floods the market with liquidity, that will be very good for all types of risk assets....
  • Setting the Bull Trap

    Yesterday I sent you an Outside the Box from Paul McCulley who supports the government and Fed activity (in general) in the current economic crisis. Today we look at an opposing view from Bennet Sedacca of Atlantic Advisors. He asks some very interesting questions like: Shouldn't the consumer, after decades of over-consumption, be allowed to digest the over-indebtedness and save, rather than be encouraged to take risk? Shouldn't companies, no matter what of view, if run poorly, be allowed to fail or forced to restructure? Should taxpayer money be used to make up for the mishaps at financial institutions or should we allow them to wallow in their own mistakes? I think you will find this a very thought-provoking Outside the Box....
  • The Paradox of Deleveraging Will Be Broken

    We are clearly not having as much fun taking off leverage as we had putting it on, or at least the vast majority are not. This week in Outside the Box we look at some very thought-provoking insights from my good friend Paul McCulley, who helps us think about how we got here and what will be the end point. From the letter: 'But what ailed Lehman was but a manifestation of what ailed, and ails the global financial intermediary system: the presumption that grossly levered positions in illiquid assets can always be funded, because those doing the funding will always assume the borrower is a going concern.' You need to read this when you have the time to think. The quotes from Keynes are important....
  • The Fall of Lehman and The Terrible Lessons of Bear Stearns

    The weekend has brought us events that can only be described in large, over-the-top terms. The Fed agreeing to take equity on its balance sheet? How bad can things really be? Clearly much worse than most people thought last Friday. Moral Hazard has been re-introduced as Lehman is allowed to go down. I will admit to being surprised. I thought Paulson and Bernanke would put it in the too big too fail category. I think they did the right thing by refusing taxpayer money for a bailout, but it is clearly going to roil the credit markets for weeks and months. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts....
  • This Crisis Is Not Over

    What a momentous weekend. I was pounding the table about the need to move quickly on Fannie and Freddie in my last few letters, and especially this last letter. And then they did it. There are a lot of details that have yet to come out, and it is likely to be far more expensive the Savings and Loan crisis was for the US taxpayer, but it did get done. Hopefully, we can get some real regulation for part of our costs, as well as get rid of the implicit guarantees by US taxpayers so that something like this never happens again. The fact that it did was the fault of the regulatory environment and Congress. They fired the heads of Fannie and Freddie (with multi-million dollar parting gifts), but sadly, the truly responsible parties will be re-elected to perpetrate yet more frauds....
  • Dead Men Walking

    Last Friday's letter was about the fact that it is not just Freddie and Fannie. There are other problems. The Weekend Edition and today's Wall Street Journal are filled with stories about the problems with Freddie and Fannie. The assumption in so many quarters is that they will soon need government assistance. The only questions seem to be when and in what form? Can this wait until a new president is in place? Congress is leaving town soon. Can it wait until the lame duck session? As I have been writing for well over a year, the cr4edit crisis is going to be deeper and take longer to correct than the main stream media and economists think. Losses at banks are going to be much larger, and they are going to bleed for a long time. That means we are going to see more banks failing. Bennet Sedacca, who I quoted in last week's letter, sent out a new letter this morning, providing a list of stocks he thinks may also be in trouble, his "Dead Men Walking" list. He also notes several banks that will be the beneficiaries of the crisis as they gobble up weak competitors....
  • Survival of the Unfittest

    It is indeed a very interesting time in which to live, especially watching the financial markets. The disconnect among authorities, regulators, companies and investors is almost too much to comprehend. There are no precedents for the turmoil we are in. This week we read an essay by a name familiar to readers of Outside Box, Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management (www.hegcap.com). As usual he offers us some very cogent comments on the continuing efforts by those in authority to bail out the system, along with insights on the deal by Merrill and the woes at GM. It is a very interesting letter, so I will stand aside and let Michael jump in....
  • The Paradox of Deleveraging

    I have often commented about the problem of personal savings. We worry about the lack of savings here in the US, but many do not understand that if everyone started to save 5% of there income immediately that it would seriously impact consumer spending, pushing the US into a recession. It is a paradox, as Paul McCulley points out, that what may be good for the individual may not be good for the collective country. And in this week's Outside the Box, good friend and this week's Maine fishing buddy Paul McCulley writes about another paradox called the Paradox of Deleveraging. This Paradox is at the heart of the credit crisis. Many of you will not like his conclusions, as it calls for the government to step into the breach created by the problem he describes. But as I often point out, the purpose of Outside the Box is to make us think about ideas which may not be in our usual sources of information. Paul is the Managing Director at PIMCO, the world's largest bond manager....
  • A Short Covering Rally

    How do you spell short-selling rally, gentle reader? In this week's Outside the Box we look at several short items (pardon the pun) from various sources, which paint a not pretty picture. The first hit my inbox this morning from Art Cashin (of CNBC fame and also Head Floor Trader for UBS). "Deconstructing The Rally - The sharp rally that sprang from the new short sale restrictions has been spiky and, in several ways, very powerful. The impact of the short rule change was evident. As Barron's notes, the 150 stocks with the heaviest short interest rallied a stunning 15%. The stocks with the smallest short positions rose only 2%. That may be a function of existing shorts scrambling to cover to pass the new, belated, scrutiny. That thesis got added weight from a couple of areas. The Merrill Lynch results got mostly panned by several analysts and TV pundits. Nonetheless, the stock closed 24% above its lows for the week. Also, the financial sector ETF rose nearly 25% from the lows. "All of the above suggests that the rally is based on the two pronged government move. First, put a safety net under the financials, especially Fannie and Freddie. Second, restrict opportunities to sell the financials short. We'll wait to see if those efforts have further legs this week."...