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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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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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  • GaveKal Five Corners

    This week we look at some mostly bullish analysis from my friends at GaveKal for the Outside the Box. Much of the letter is devoted to looking at why Europe may fare better than many think (which will make uber-European bull David Kotok happy to read!). But be very sure to read the last page as Steve Vannelli analyzes the latest speculation about the Fed and quantitative easing. All those calling for QE2 may not actually do what they think it will. His conclusion?

    "Once again, if there is no growth in broad money, no increase in velocity and no increase in Fed credit (hybrid money), then the only source to finance growth in the real economy will remain the sale of risky assets. When confidence seems to be stuck in a low plateau and talk of reigning in fiscal deficits is growing louder, a policy of undermining the value of risky assets couldn't be more counterproductive to growth."

    I find myself in New York this morning (I once again did Yahoo Tech Ticker) leaving for DC later. Then sadly will have to forego Turks and Caicos, but that does allow for me to go to Baton Rouge for a one day course on the affects of the gulf oil spill on the regional economy, helicopter flyovers, etc. I will report back in this week's letter what I learn.

    Have a great week.

    Your wishing he was still fishing in Maine analyst,

    John Mauldin, Editor
    Outside the Box

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  • Running through a minefield, backwards

    Before we get into today's Outside the Box I want to clear up a few ideas from this weekend's letter. There have been posts on various websites equating my piece on deflation with Paul Krugman. They say I am advocating kicking the can down the road and not reducing the deficit.

    Wrong. What I have been trying to point out for several years is that we have no good choices. We are down to bad and very bad choices. The very bad choice (leading to disastrous - think Greece) is to continue to run massive deficits. The merely bad choice is to reduce the deficits gradually over time. As I try to point out, reducing the deficits has consequences in the short term. It WILL affect GDP in the short term. Krugman and the neo-Keynesians are right about that. To deny that is to ignore basic arithmetic.

    I am not for kicking the can down the road. Not to begin to deal with the deficits, and soon, risks an even worse problem. But - and this is a big but - I don't want to stomp on the can, either.

    Now, let's get into this week's Outside the Box. I offer you a very intriguing essay by those friendly guys from Bedlam Asset Management in London. They argue that Belgium's sovereign debt should be suspect, and is the country that could be a 'sleeper' problem. This is a very interesting read, with a lot of history. It is not too long and very interesting. Enjoy....
  • The Great Reflation

    Let me start this week's Outside the Box by venting a little anger. It now looks like almost 30% of the Greek financing will come from the IMF, rather than just a small portion. And since 40% of the IMF is funded by US taxpayers, and that debt will be JUNIOR to current bond holders (if the rumors are true) I can't tell you how outraged that makes me.

    What that means is that US (and Canadian and British, etc.) tax payers will be giving money to Greece who will use a lot of it to roll over old bonds, letting European banks and funds reduce their exposure to Greece while tax-payers all over the world who fund the IMF assume that risk. And does anyone really think that Greece will pay that debt back? IMF debt should be senior and no bank should be allowed to roll over debt and reduce their exposure to Greek debt on the back of foreign tax-payers.

    I don't think I signed on for that duty. Why should my tax money go to help European banks? This is just wrong on so many levels and there is nothing seemingly we can do. Oh, well. Thanks for listening.

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  • The Making of a Greek Tragedy

    Back and recovering from my Strategic Investment Conference this weekend (where I decided to give myself permission not to write my usual letter, but I promise I will be back at it this next Friday!) I have spent some time pondering what we learned. It was a fabulous conference. Lacy Hunt, Dr. Gary Shilling, David Rosenberg, Niall Ferguson, Paul McCulley, George Friedman, former Fed Senior Economist Jason Cummins (who is now Chief Economist for Brevan Howard, the largest European hedge fund, and who was quite impressive), Jon Sundt of Altegris, and your humble analyst were all in top form. I must admit with a little pride that I think this is the finest speaker lineup for ANY investment conference anywhere. We were given a lot to think about.

    Let me give you a few key points as an intro to this week's Outside the Box. First, there is a bubble building and it is in sovereign debt. It threatens to be a worse bubble than subprime or the credit crisis. Second, at one panel where we were asked what is our main worry, Paul McCulley said 'Europe,' which triggered an intense discussion, both in the panel and later that night over dinner. I agreed, of course, as I have written that very thing.

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  • The European Union Trap

    Let me state upfront that this is not the easiest to grasp Outside the Box that I have sent you. But if you can get what Rob is saying, you will understand why the problems facing the world, and especially Europe, are so difficult. Everyone cannot export their way out of this crisis. Someone has to actually run a current account (trade) deficit.

    My suggestion is that you read this once through, and then read it again. If you see where Rob is going, it makes it easier to understand the second time. Warning: Rob Parenteau is an Austrian economist. In many circles, what he is saying is controversial, if not at least counter-intuitive. But it makes us think, which is the purpose of Outside the Box. If I get a response that is robust and thoughtful, I will run it in the future. The problem that Rob articulates is the center of the problems we face. There are no good or easy choices, as I have been writing for a log time.

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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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  • 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.'...
  • 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....