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  • An Israeli Prime Minister Comes to Washington Again

    Occasionally I need a fast answer. So I'll run a Google search, and 2.54 MILLION responses later I've learned how to handle a Thanksgiving turkey-roasting crisis but nothing useful about Turkey's financial crisis.

    There's certainly no shortage of data these days. But what's in all-too-short supply is understanding. As investors, what creates opportunities isn't access to data but to ways of thinking about the world. I created Outside the Box precisely for this reason, to share with you some of the best thinkers in the world and some of the best ways to think about investments....
  • The Geopolitics of Pandemics

    If you ever look at the footnotes, you know that 'Past performance is no guarantee of future results.' That said, by the time you've gotten a bit of gray hair, you realize that there are few teachers as good as history. 'But this time it's different!' is the cry of people that are usually just about to lose a bunch of money.

    Read the analysis below from my good friend George Friedman at STRATFOR on the latest new thing, the swine flu outbreak....
  • On Energy Production and US Intelligence Failures

    I send you Outside the Box each week not to make you comfortable but to make you think. Usually it is on some financial topic, but life is more than investments. Economics is not an isolated discipline (more like an art form I think) so we have to have a real understanding of the world around us. This week I offer two essays which made me both think and reflect. We live in a world which wants easy solutions to complex problems, and wish as we may, will not get easy solutions which will work.

    The first essay is by Pewter Huber on the reality of energy production. We all want to be able to "go green." How realistic is that? The second is by my friend George Friedman on torture and US intelligence failures.

    Peter Huber is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and the coauthor, most recently, of The Bottomless Well. His article develops arguments that he made in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate in January. George is well known to OTB readers. He is president of Stratfor and was with the CIA (as was his wife Meredith) before they founded Stratfor, what I think of as the premier private intelligence agency in the world.

    I suggest you put on your thinking caps and take some time to read both of these very important essays, and enjoy your week. I am off to Orlando and the CFA conference....
  • Second Quarter Forecast 2009: Global Trends

    I've been in this business a long time. Some days it feels like a very long time. But never in all the years that I've been in the financial markets have I felt like business per se has less impact on my investment decisions. Let me explain.

    GM shares have gone from being a claim on earnings from car sales to being a call option on whether the US government will extend another lifeline. Banks' capital structures have gone from being the province of Boards of Directors and CFOs to the "expertise" of Congressional committees and appointed regulators. Used to be when I thought about Financial Centers New York and London came to mind. Instead now I have to think about Washington and Brussels.

    My friend George Friedman and his team at STRATFOR are where I turn when I need help thinking about these new realities. George's team provides me context and understanding of the environment in which financial developments are going to take place. I may tweak him about his ties, but if you saw George speak at my conference in La Jolla, you know that he's an absolutely compelling speaker. And it's small wonder that his latest book spent those weeks on the New York Times bestseller list too.

    ...
  • Obama's Strategy and the Summits

    A long-time religious land bridge between the Islamic and Western worlds, Turkey now finds itself an economic gatekeeper, a US-backed contender for the EU and the only key that could unlock Europe from dependence on Russian resources. The value of your dollar is intrinsically linked to last week’s summits—the most important multinational summits in history.

    I’d like to share with you an article by my friend George Friedman at STRATFOR. It delves into the Summits (G20, NATO, bilaterals) and explores the connections between finance and geopolitics. In this case, it boils down to two string-holding puppeteers: Germany and Russia. Germany, the largest exporter in the world, is happy to up its production while the US spreads its dollar paper-thin by contributing to an IMF fund that will bail out countries who will in turn spend their money in Germany’s already tremendous export sector. Russia, the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, too stands to benefit from US contributions to the IMF pot, as their slice of the pie gets bigger with the pan—as long as Turkey keeps her pipes closed....
  • The Obama Administration and the Former Soviet Union

    Who's afraid of the Russian bear? As Russia makes a grab for power and influence, the rest of the world watches to see how the United States and her still-new president will react. As an investor, it's important that you're aware of global politics, as the ramifications reach beyond diplomatic relations and straight into the markets.

    I've included a piece from my friend George Friedman's company, STRATFOR, on The Obama Administration and the Former Soviet Union. It's the seventh in a series that explores how key countries have interacted with the United States in the past, and how their relationships with Washington will likely be defined during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. It's a must-read for informed investors.

    George has very kindly arranged for a special offer on a STRATFOR Membership just for my readers. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this offer. Now more than ever, you need a wide lens on the world, as politics shapes the economy. There's no one better than George and his team at Stratfor at telling you what you need to know and why. I know you'll find them as valuable as I do....
  • China: Exports Drop

    When I read the headline, 'China: Exports Drop,' plastic toys, cheap sneakers and milk scandals come to mind. But the impact of China's financial health is more far-reaching than simply affecting the Wal-Mart consumer; China matters on a global investing stage. So that's why I don't just read headlines; I read STRATFOR. My friend George Friedman's team of analysts will take the numbers and explain to me what they mean and how they impact the country, without bias or partisanship. They don't make value judgments, they outline the full financial picture so I can make my own. Understanding China is critical to anyone with investments. In the following piece, STRATFOR graphically presents the decline in exports in a historical context, and outlines other critical measurements in the Chinese economy -- giving me the frame of reference I need. I highly recommend that you start reading STRATFOR for this kind of focused analysis....
  • Obama's Energy Plan: Trying to Kill 3 Birds With 1 Stone

    As a boy with a slingshot, killing two birds with one stone meant I was either the best shot in the land or the luckiest -- and rewarded by neighborhood fame and the good fortune of the affection of the girl next door. As I read a piece sent to me by George Friedman, founder of STRATFOR, entitled 'Obama's Energy Plan: Trying to Kill 3 Birds With 1 Stone,' it dawned on me that reading STRATFOR is the same maximization of my opportunities: not only am I getting information about three important aspects of global affairs -- economics, politics, and military movements -- but I’m getting information I can use to invest, to make business decisions, and to share at cocktail parties. I’m getting neighborhood fame and that girl’s affection all over again. At a time when your investments are earning less and less, getting more and more for your money is more important than ever. STRATFOR continues to give you more intelligence, analysis, and forecasts on more countries, regions, and continents but for the same low price. In the piece I’ve included below, STRATFOR’s expert analysts lay out how Obama plans to address three energy issues with one ten-year plan. It’s more in-depth than anything else out there, offering a clear-cut explanation of complicated energy policies and projects spanning the next decade....
  • Global Trend: The Russian Resurgence

    If the Russian Bear has indeed emerged from its post-Soviet hibernation to regain global prominence, that means big things for your portfolio. From the punishingly obvious war with Georgia last summer, to the more subtle - but equally powerful - shut off of natural gas to Ukraine and Europe, Russia is making it abundantly clear that they want to be global players again. To get a read on how this is all going to play out, I turn to my friend George Friedman, the founder of global intelligence firm Stratfor....
  • The Next 100 Years

    Much of the world is focused on the next 100 days—what Obama is going to do. That's important. But today in a special Outside the Box from my good friend George Freidman of Stratfor We will look out a bit further George is just about to release his latest book, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. (Even pre-release it's already at #11 on Amazon's non-fiction bestseller list!) Here's my quick summary; and to cut to the chase, it's just fascinating. What reads like a geopolitical thriller gives a thought-provoking glimpse into what the world will look like in the coming century. George's strength is his ability to take geopolitical patterns and use them to forecast future events, sometimes with startling and counterintuitive results....
  • Iran: Using Oil as a Weapon, But Only Rhetorically

    The hottest media topic of the New Year is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. And as I was reading the New York Times on Tuesday, I came across this sentence in one of the articles that was staggeringly truthful and more than a little unsettling in its implications for me as an investor. 'There are other ways to construe the context of this conflict of course. But no matter what, Israel's diplomats know that if journalists are given a choice between covering death and covering context, death wins.' Now, I'm NOT trying to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of either side, but if you're an investor, and you're trying to make decisions about where this conflict might drive oil prices, for example, then context is everything. And according to the New York Times, if you're relying on journalists for context, forget it. But you do have an alternative....
  • EU Summit: What is Not Being Talked About

    There are plenty of sources out there that are happy to tell you what's happening in the world, and much of it matters. But oftentimes, what's much more important is the dog that didn't bark. Remember Enron's undisclosed subsidiaries? Or the off-balance sheet holdings of just about every financial services firm? Sherlock Holmes uses the dog that didn't bark to solve the mystery -- the dog had to know the intruder. My friend George Friedman's company, Stratfor, uses the dog that didn't bark to highlight issues that are equally critical to the global economy -- that aren't being discussed. Traditional sources let me mitigate known risks. Stratfor tells me about the risks and opportunities I might not even be aware of. I'm including an example below: Stratfor's EU Summit: What is Not Being Talked About. As this analysis demonstrates, normal reporting on what was discussed might be helpful, but it's the missing topics -- those that the media misses -- that you really need to think about....
  • 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....
  • 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....
  • Obama's Challenge

    With the election of a new US President, everyone is focused on the 'First 100 Days.' How Obama transitions into the presidency impacts not just the U.S. but the entire global system. What happens to U.S. relations with Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan? What's going to happen at Treasury and to all the programs addressing the financial crisis? What's going to emerge from the next G20 summit? You need to read the analysis below, written by my good friend George Friedman at Stratfor. He details the immediate issues facing the president-elect, including one of the stickiest: Europe's desire for a global banking regulatory regimen. How will Obama respond to European pressure? George has built his company Stratfor and its reputation on forecasting the future, and I'm amazed at how often he's right -- on broad themes and specific events....