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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Recession, Deflation and Deficits

    I look forward at the beginning of every quarter to receiving the Quarterly Outlook from Hoisington Investment Management. They have been prominent proponents of the view that deflation is the problem, stemming from a variety of factors, and write about their views in a very clear and concise manner. This quarter's letter is no exception, where they once again delve into the history books to bring up fresh and relevant lessons for today. This is a must read piece.

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  • The Ultimate Hedge in Economic Crisis

    This week we have a really counter-intuitive Outside the Box. I was talking with the editor of Breakthrough Technology Alert, Patrick Cox about health care costs and he made some very interesting observations from new research about health care. It seems healthy people pay more for health care than sick people. I asked him to do a write-up for us. Despite the new health care bill that passed, health care costs are going to go up, not down. And that's a good thing, as Pat explains. You really want to read this.

    Some of you may not be aware that a few months ago I wrote that I was buying stocks for the first time in 12 years, and specifically smaller, transformational biotech stocks. As I wrote at the time, I think that we could see a real bubble in biotech in the latter part of this decade, and just once, please God, I want to be at the beginning of a bubble.

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  • 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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  • UK economy must perform a rebalancing act

    Long time readers know that I am a huge fan of Martin Wolf, economist and columnist for the Financial Times. His writing is the reason to get the Pink Lady (as the Financial Times is known) as far as I am concerned.

    This week's Outside the Box has two columns back to back from last week from Wolf, talking about the problems in Britain which look like the same problem all over the developed world. Wolf argues (rather cogently) that the answer is to increase exports and for a further weakening of the pound....
  • 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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  • Eclectica November Fund Commentary

    Today's Outside the Box comes to us from England. My European partner Niels Jensen from time to time sends me some of the best letters he reads from the hedge fund world. He is an excellent filter for me, and this week's Outside the Box offering is no exception. Below is the November commentary from Eclectica fund manager Hugh Hendry. He challenges the current preoccupation with the falling dollar and China, and posits what would happen if that thinking is wrong? It offers some very thought-provoking ideas. You can contact them for more information at info@eclectica-am.com or visit their website: http://www.eclectica-am.com

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  • Liquor before Beer - In the Clear

    I am in Argentina today, but still have found time to read a rather provocative speech by David Einhorn, who is President of Greenlight Capital, a 'long-short value-oriented hedge fund', which he began in 1996. Einhorn has long been a critic of the current investment banking business, and today he discusses the problems with not only the proposed new government regulations (or lack thereof), but also the problems with the US debt and our currency valuations. It is a most thought-provoking and fun speech.

    It is especially poignant as I sit in a country that has seen the ravages of hyper-inflation, talking with business leaders and investors who experienced the problems first hand and how they deal with it today. I will be writing about what I am learning this Friday I think. But now I have to run and give my third speech today. Have a good week!...
  • Quarterly Review and Outlook - Third Quarter 2009

    I look forward at the beginning of every quarter to receiving the Quarterly Outlook from Hoisington Investment Management. They have been prominent proponents of the view that deflation is the problem, stemming from a variety of factors, and write about their views in a very clear and concise manner. This quarter's letter is no exception, where they once again delve into the history books to bring up fresh and relevant lessons for today. This is a must read piece.

    Hoisington Investment Management Company (www.hoisingtonmgt.com) is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the firm has over $4-billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies. And now let's jump right in to the essay....
  • Growth in Potential GDP

    This week I offer you two short pieces for your Outside the Box Reading Pleasure. The first is from my friends at GaveKal and is part of their daily letter. They address the real difference between those who think we will have a consumer led recovery (Keynesian) and those who think we will have a corporate profit led recovery (classical economics or Schumpeterian). This is actually a very important debate and distinction. I find that GaveKal pushes me to think almost more than any other group, as they constantly challenge my assumptions. (www.gavekal.com)

    The second piece comes from Dr. John Hussman of Hussman Funds (www.hussmanfunds.com). He offers us some very insightful analysis on the potential for growth going forward, which goes along with what I have been writing: We are in for a longer period of below trend growth, which does not bode well for corporate profits in the long run. I think you will get a lot out of these two items.

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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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  • U.S. GDP Review -- Consumer, Where Art Thou?

    This week I am in the office for just one day, but I can rely on my friend Dave Rosenberg to give us solid insight on the latest GDP numbers for this week's Outside the Box. Dave slices and dices to show us what really happened. David was the former Chief Economist at the former Merrill Lynch (ah, Mother Merrill, we barely knew ye.) and is now Chief Economist at Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc., which is one of Canada's pre-eminent wealth management firms. Founded in 1984, they manage $4.4 billion. David notes that the data gives us a mixed picture.

    I am in Maine later this week. It is likely I will be on CNBC, as they will be shooting live from our fishing camp. Also, they plan to do a one hour special with a number of interviews. I will let you know when it airs. A quick note from me: The third quarter is likely to be positive, especially given the success of the "Cash for Clunkers" program which it looks like our Congress is going to pass another round of spending which taxpayers (our kids) will get to pay off, or more likely pay $50 million per years for decades in interest. Sigh. Essentially, we are moving up car sales today which would have been made later, except that if you can get someone else to make your down payment, why not make that purchase today? A very reasonable response on the part of the consumer....
  • 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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  • Debt and Deflation

    There is a reason I call this column Outside the Box. I try to get material that forces us to think outside our normal comfort zones and challenges our common assumptions. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation to be all about rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation.

    As Niels Jensen pointed out last week, the most important question that an investor can ask is whether we are in for deflation or inflation. And this week we read a well reasoned piece on deflation. This is one of the more important essays I have sent out. You need to set aside some time to absorb this one.

    Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a few thoughts on why they think it is deflation that will ultimately be the problem and not inflation we are dealing with today. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort....