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  • The State of the World: A Framework

    Companies issue state of the enterprise addresses, and presidents issue state of the union addresses ... but you've got to be pretty confident to address the state of the world. Luckily for us, Stratfor founder and CEO George Friedman is just that confident – and it's well-deserved.

    George is the expert in geopolitics, and his company is the best source out there for geopolitical analysis. Thus, his recent article, "The State of the World: A Framework," is well worth a thorough read. It identifies three distinct phenomena the world is facing: the European financial crisis, the Chinese export crisis, and Iran's rise to power in the Middle East.

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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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  • Demographics, Destiny and Asset Markets

    I am in Minnesota this morning doing a speech, but do have a very good candidate for this week’s Outside the Box. Tony Boeckh just published a piece by George Magnus on demographics and the markets that I think is very thought-provoking. Demographics is something I think about a lot and you should too. I will let Tony do the introduction of George.

    Have a good week. My goal is to write this Friday’s letter a little early so that I can get in some fishing time. And when you look at today’s ISM number, look past the headline number, which is just fine, and look at the weakness in the leading indicators. New orders declined by 5 points to 53.5, its lowest level since June 2009. Also, imports slowed noticeably, which is a bad omen for domestic demand. Overall, the ISM index suggests that real GDP and factory output slowed early this quarter.

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  • Learning from the Bank of Dad

    This week we visit an essay from an old friend of Outside the Box, Paul McCulley, the Managing Directpr of PIMCO. This is a speech he did at the Minsky Conference sponsored (I believe) by the Levy Institute. It was also the same speech he gave at my conference mid-April that was quite well received.

    Essentially Paul argues that the cause of the recent crisis was the creation of the Shadow Banking System outside the purview of regulation. And while he did not use the line in this speech, he did at my conference, which is one of the truly great lines I have heard this year.

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  • Slow Long-Term Growth, And Government's Response

    This week I am really delighted to be able to give you a condensed version of Gary Shilling's latest INSIGHT newsletter for your Outside the Box. Each month I really look forward to getting Gary's latest thoughts on the economy and investing. Last year in his forecast issue he suggested 13 investment ideas, all of which were profitable by the end of the year. It is not unusual for Gary to give us over 75 charts and tables in his monthly letters along with his commentary, which makes his thinking unusually clear and accessible. Gary was among the first to point out the problems with the subprime market and predict the housing and credit crises. His web site is down being re-designed, but you can write for more information at insight@agaryshilling.com. If you want to subscribe (for $275), you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get not only his recent 2009 forecast issue with the year's investment themes, but an extra issue with his 2010 forecast (of course, that one will not come out until the end of the year. Gary is good but not that good!) I trust you are enjoying your week. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box.

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  • Where Will the Growth Come From?

    Today we read a piece sent to me by my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal (and who will be at my conference in April). It is entitled "Where Will the Growth Come From?" It reminds us of the lessons that Harry gave me. Each person and company is responsible for their own part of the recovery. You can't rely on mass statistics, or you miss the important lesson in individual responsibility. I don't think anyone can accuse me of being bullish the past few years. Interestingly, I get a lot of emails from people telling me the end of the world is coming, and deriding my longer-term optimism. They are convinced we are going into some deep national morass worse than the Great Depression (and such deflationary times will somehow make their gold go to $3,000!?!?). Yet they are working to make sure their own personal worlds are covered. I get no letters from people who are simply giving up. What company will keep a CEO who does not work hard to figure out how to keep the company alive? If you lose your job, do you not try and get another one or figure out how to make ends meet? Do you not put in extra hours to try and make your personal life or business or job better? Even if it is terribly difficult, the very large majority of people don't throw in the towel. Each of us, in our own way, gets up every morning to fight the good fight, even when the swamp is full of more alligators than we ever counted on. We just pick up a baseball bat, wade into the swamp, kill as many alligators as we can in one day, and then go home to get ready to fight the next day....
  • Can The Euro Survive?

    Milton Friedman famously predicted that the euro would not last past their first economic crisis. This week we look at commentary by Niels Jensen that explores the news from Euroland. Can the euro survive? He explores a number of options which are most definitely not on the radar screen for most investors. It is good to get a perspective from those outside of our own back yard. Note that when he says "our country" he is referring to Great Britain. Niels is the Managing Partner of Absolute Return Partners based in London (which is my European partner). I work closely with Niels for years and have found him to be one of the more savvy observers of the markets I know....
  • Geithner, China, and the Specter of Technical Insolvency

    This week I bring you two different articles as an offering for Outside the Box. As a way to introduce the first, let me give you the quote from Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg about the rising threat of global trade protectionism: 'The Financial Times weighs in on the rising threat of global trade protectionism in today's Lex Column on page 14 ('Economic Patriotism'). The FT points out that the stimulus packages of many countries include 'buy local' provisions. At home, there is a proposed inclusion of a 'Buy American' provision in the economic recovery package and this could set off trade retaliation from importers of US goods. Here is what the FT had to say, 'It was trade protectionism that made the 1930s Depression 'Great'. Congress would do well to understand that it is in everyone's interest to keep trade open today.' I have long written that the one thing that could derail my Muddle Through (at least eventually) view point is a return to trade protectionism. Nothing could be more devastating to the hopes of a recovery. Nothing could more surely turn a recession into a depression, and a global one at that....
  • Semi-Annual U.S. Economic Outlook: Collapsing On Schedule

    This week I am really delighted to be able to give you a condensed version of Gary Shilling's latest INSIGHT newsletter for your Outside the Box. Each month I really look forward to getting Gary's latest thoughts on the economy and investing. Last year in his forecast issue he suggested 13 investment ideas, all of which were profitable by the end of the year. It is not unusual for Gary to give us over 75 charts and tables in his monthly letters along with his commentary, which makes his thinking unusually clear and accessible. Gary was among the first to point out the problems with the subprime market and predict the housing and credit crises. You can learn more about his letter at http://www.agaryshilling.com. If you want to subscribe, you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get not only his 2009 forecast issue but an extra issue with his 2010 forecast (of course, that one will not come out for a year. Gary is good but not that good!) I trust you are enjoying the holidays. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box....
  • 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....
  • 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....
  • On G-20 and GM: Economics, Politics and Social Stability

    The Big Three have a new customer, and it isn't you. As Detroit's former heavyweights fight for a slice of a $25 billion bailout package, more than humble pie is being eaten. If the automakers fail and take their companies into bankruptcy, Michigan as we know it ceases to exist economically. The trickle-down impact could rapidly become a waterfall: the seat supplier in Georgia loses three major customers. The factory worker who makes seats is out of a job. The bank who holds his mortgage takes another hickey. Commercial lending at that bank dries up. Ad nauseum. In the best of economic times, this would be a troublesome scenario. In today's economy, it's easy to see how policymakers are as worried about social stability as they are economics. No astute person thinks that the Big Three will be able to return to the business practices of last year. And no intelligent investor should be trying to evaluate portfolio decisions the same way this year either. We have moved from the realm of finance to political economy, and for that you need a different set of tools and a different mindset....
  • The International Economic Crisis and Stratfor's Methodology

    Exhale for a moment, forget your losses for the time being, and try to appreciate the fact that you're living through the single most important development in global finance since Bretton Woods. This is a "tell the grandkids about it" moment, when governments all around the world have essentially decided in unison that it's time to rewrite the rules, the very framework, in which financial transactions take place. Stock trading, interbank lending, commercial paper, the very concept of private sector ownership are all up in the air right now. The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that if you try to evaluate your investments using the same metrics you've always relied on - P/E ratios, market share, interest rates, etc. - you're going to be as successful as a football-turned-baseball coach evaluating a pitcher by the number of touchdowns he throws. The rules are changing, gentle reader, changing at least for awhile from market-driven inputs to government-driven inputs. If you try to apply what you know from the "old game" without understanding that you're playing a "new game," the rules might not make sense. I'm sending you today a piece from my friend George Friedman on how his company Stratfor looks at economics. More precisely, this piece explains how they look at Political Economy. And from here on out, it's political economy that's going to be driving markets. If the old rule was "Never fight the Fed." It's now, "Never fight the Fed. And the Treasury. And the ECB. And the Bank of England. And the Bank of Japan...." You get my point....
  • Banking Crises Around The World

    Do government bailouts in times of banking crises work? Philippa Dunne & Doug Henwood of The Liscio Report highlight a major study of 42 fairly recent banking crises around the world. Result? Some types of government intervention works and some don't. One characteristic that is needed though is speed. Dithering, a la Japan, is a recipe for disaster. This is a brief summary of the report (to which they provide a link) and their conclusions as to the basic outlines of what the US should do. Given that Europe is already in the throws of its own bank crisis, and the rest of the world could experience problems, this should be useful reading. They also provide graphs of banking crises and comparisons with developed countries and the resulting market experience....
  • 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....