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  • Mind the (Expectations) Gap: Demographic Trends and GDP

    For today's Outside the Box we have a very special research piece by Rob Arnott of Research Associates and his colleague Denis Chaves. Rob was with us at Leen's Lodge last week, and in the final evening discussion session he asked an interesting question having to do with demography and GDP growth. I was intrigued by it, but the group soon moved on without fully exploring Rob's idea; so I mentioned it to him again later, and he was good enough to send along the following paper.

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  • Hoisington Investment Management - Quarterly Review and Outlook, Second Quarter 2013

    Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington kick off their second-quarter Review and Outlook with a contrarian view: "The secular low in bond yields has yet to be recorded." And as usual, they have their reasons; but unlike most of the blabbermouth economic talking heads out there, they aren't interested in endlessly parsing the fitful utterances of Ben Bernanke and friends. Rather, they zero in on the fundamental reasons why long-term Treasury yields have probably not hit their low. Those reasons fall, they say, into four categories: (a) diminished inflation pressures, (b) slowing GDP growth, (c) weakening consumer fundamentals, and (d) anti-growth monetary and fiscal policies.

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  • Investing in a Low-Growth World

    I am personally doing a lot of thinking and research on this topic. I strongly suspect that other significant factors will arise to play havoc with projections, in both fantastically positive and uncomfortably dire ways. I am more and more seeing the future as very “lumpy,” that is, quite uneven as to how it will affect individuals and even entire countries. For those who espouse more equality in incomes and outcomes, this is not your optimal scenario. But even with all the “lumpiness,” the average person will be much better off in 20 years – though “average” will cover a much wider spread of outcomes than it does even today. But rather than launch into that book now, we’ll let Jeremy take over.

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  • Sorting Out the Decade

    In today's Outside the Box I bring you two pieces that, at first glance, may not seem to have much to do with each other. First, Bill Gross, PIMCO managing director, runs down the fierce structural headwinds that our hard-pedaling global economy faces over the next decade. I am going to deal at length with not only his GDP projections for the rest of the decade but those of Grantham and others in the last two Thoughts from the Frontline of this year. This is a challenging environment for traditional portfolio construction, but it’s par for the course as we slog through the secular bear market I was first writing about in 1999.

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  • Random Europe

    It is a lazy summer day here in Texas, and the market and investment news front is rather quiet as well. But that will change before too long. We should enjoy the relative calm while we can, because Europe will soon be back in full crisis mode, coming off the summer. In today's Outside the Box we'll look at three brief pieces that may give us a preview of the near future, as well as an incisive retrospective on the recent past.

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  • Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook

    Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington of Hoisington Investment Management write a “Quarterly Review and Outlook” that is a must-read for me. This quarter they focus on US monetary policy, noting that “After peaking at 1.69 in the second quarter of 2010, M2 velocity declined for four consecutive quarters, and we estimate that a major contraction in velocity to 1.59 is likely for the third quarter.” (I mentioned the importance of the velocity of money in judging inflation vs. deflation prospects in this week’s e-letter, too.)

    They say, “If our analysis of a new contraction in GDP is correct, the U.S. economy should be viewed as operating in the midst of a long-term slump, regardless of terminology.”

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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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  • Does Unreal GDP Drive Our Policy Choices?

    I am back from Rob Arnott’s conference in Laguna Beach, and I must confess that if I had attended it before I wrote last week’s e-letter I might have had lower odds on the US political class solving the debt crisis, absent a real economic crisis forcing them to. There were several presentations that made the problems quite clear. It remains a tough issue.

    This week’s Outside the Box is a recent white paper by Rob, where he argues that the traditional way we look at GDP is flawed, because it overstates what is happening in the real, private part of the economy, which is the productive part. Government spending is either money collected from the private sector in the form of taxes or borrowed money that future generations must repay. While not likely to become a mainstream economic view, this is very useful for our own thinking about what constitutes productivity and investments. This is a short but powerful piece from one of America’s most honored economic writers.

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  • Game Changer

    This week we look at another except from Ed Easterling's gonzo book on stock market return projections called Probable Outcomes. This section is entitled Game Changer, and it is that and more. (Again thanks to Ed for letting us read his work!)

    Game Changer is a thought-provoking, somewhat detailed, analysis with two major surprises.  The first is that GDP growth was well-below average last decade (a trend that could continue this decade)…and second, slowing growth has a substantial negative effect on valuations (P/E).  This ties well into my own Endgame and provides "implications" about slower growth, etc.  (which is what I project from work of my own). Slower growth drives lower P/Es (even without higher inflation or deflation) and could drop the market by a third or so relative to "normal" cycles.

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  • Sovereign Subjects: Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, but How

    As I am traveling in Europe for a few more days, it seems appropriate to review the very fascinating work of Arnuad Mares of Morgan Stanley in London. He poses the very provocative question: “Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, but How?” and comes up with some very interesting statistics. He suggests that simply looking at debt to GDP misses the point and offers four other ways we should also evaluate sovereign debt risk. This is a very worthy contribution to Outside the Box.

    The question I get over and over as I travel and present my thoughts is “When is the US going to get real about its fiscal deficits?” There is little sympathy for the massive deficits we are running. We are making Europe, or at least the part of Europe I am visiting, very nervous. Let us hope after the next elections we can say we are getting a handle on the deficits, and from both sides of the aisle and not just the Republicans. This is going to require cooperation.

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  • What Bernanke Doesn’t Understand

    This week’s Outside the Box is an incendiary blog written by Steve Keen on debt deflation and GDP growth. I am not certain as to his math (is he double counting debt and consumer spending?) but he does illustrate very well the problem of a deleveraging recession, which I have been writing about for a long time. This is just a different type of recession we are in. So rather than fret over the absolute certainty of the math, read this for an understanding of the nature of the problems we face. He has the direction right, I think, which is the important part for us to grasp.

    Then he just now posted a second blog on Quantitative Easing, which he ends with pointing out why it might “work” but also suggests that it would lead to yet another financial bubble. Again, very Outside the Box thinking. It has me going ‘hmmm.”

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  • China's GDP and Questions of Strength

    Today I'd like us to think about sustainability. The Mayfly is a species of insect that goes from egg to death sometimes in as little as 30 minutes, and never more than a day. Take note, because as investors we have to be wary of the same rapid fluxes in economies. I'm of course speaking of the hype surrounding the Chinese economy lately. Everyone is talking about China this week, and rightfully so, as its GDP is nearing Japan's and could become the second largest in the world. But is it sustainable? Or a boom-and-bust similar to the Mayfly?

    I'm sending you an interview with a STRATFOR analyst who, unlike the hype, says China's economy is weak and unsustainable. Find out what indicators he's looking at by ««watching this video»». While you're at it, sign up to receive their free weekly intelligence reports. You'll enjoy the unique & global perspective.

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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....
  • Asia's Paradigm Shift

    This week we turn our eyes to Asia as my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal gives us a very thought-provoking piece on the problems of investing in Asia, with a focus on China. While there are real opportunities, Louis also sees some speed bumps. Those Asian ETFs may not be the winners a lot of people think for structural reasons.

    I was to thank the team at GaveKal for letting me reproduce their research as typically it is only available to their clients who pay a rather hefty sum.

    This has been a productive weekend book writing wise. I am down to finishing 2 chapters which are mostly written and two long flights to Vancouver in front of me. Then the hard part of re-writes but I can see the end of the race. Have a great week, and if you are in Vancouver be sure to say hello.

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