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  • Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

    In today's Outside the Box, the ever-philosophical Grant Williams introduces us to the ancient and profound art and science of alchemy – "the original 12-step program," as he calls it, the avid pursuit of übernerds from Hermes Trismegistus to Isaac Newton to (believe it or not) John Maynard Keynes, who referred to certain early works of econometrics as statistical alchemy (and some still are!). And we should not forget Carl Jung, who wrote the seminal workPsychology and Alchemy (for those who do not sleep or are looking for something to put you to sleep: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology_and_Alchemy).

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  • The Futility of European Elections

    After I sent out this week's OTB on Germany, I remembered this very intriguingly titled piece by my friend George Friedman, founder of a geopolitical analysis company called Stratfor.

    The piece was written a few days ago, but when it comes to someone as ahead of the pack as George, who managed to write a book called The Next 100 Years, well, let's just say what he writes is pretty timeless.

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  • It’s All Greek To Me

    Long-time readers will be familiar with Michael Lewitt, one of my favorite thinkers and analysts. He has gone off on his own to write his letter, and I am encouraging him to write even more. I call Michael a thinker because he really does. He reads a lot of thought-provoking tomes and then thinks about them. And then writes, making his readers think. The world needs more Michael Lewitts.

    Today, he roams the world, commenting as he goes, starting of course with Europe. I have permission to use the first half of this most recent letter as today’s Outside the Box, leaving off the investment recommendations that he shares with his subscribers. If you are interested you can subscribe at www.thecreditstrategist.com.

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  • Perspectives on the Crisis in Europe

    This week's Outside the Box will be unusual. Rather than one essay, I give you a number of short ones, and links that are representative of the confusion that is Europe, along with a little history. As I noted this weekend, last week's Eurozone announcement was short of details, and very little of the real work had been done. Merkel has to get her own country on board, keep the other nations that are in trouble from demanding haircuts, and keep the markets from trashing Italian and Spanish debt. Berlusconi has to figure out how to get the Italian budget balanced while staying out of jail and "balancing" his social calendar. Maybe he can dollar-cost average with a 70-year-old date? (Sorry, that was snarky, but it is so easy.)

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  • The European Banking Crisis: Assessing the Damage and a Look Ahead

    In my letter earlier this week, our guest writer, Grant Williams, gave Europe about the same odds of escaping crisis as a pitcher throwing a perfect game in baseball. That's 40,000 to 1. Take a look at this decision tree on Europe (below) from STRATFOR, a private intelligence company. Looks like they give Europe something more like the odds of a major-league pitcher leading in home runs. Not gonna happen.

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  • Navigating the Eurozone Crisis and Preparing for Greece’s Failure

    Folks, you hear a lot about the eurozone crisis, but what you don't run across very often is a coherent idea on how to move forward. My friends at STRATFOR, a private intelligence company, have done us all the courtesy of saying out loud what everyone else shies away from: Eject Greece from the eurozone.

    It's not pretty. It belies the lovely concept of a unified and prosperous Europe. And the worst part: it comes with a big fat price tag, of the 2-trillion-euro variety. But it may be the only way to steer the train before it derails completely.

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  • The Stark Choice for Europe

    This will be one of the more controversial Outside the Box posts in a great long time. Indeed, I debated with myself at some length. It will make some readers mad, but I decided it is more important to make most readers think. And, as it happens, there are parts of this week’s essay that I rather aggressively disagree with. That being said, there is a great deal of truth here. This represents a serious body of thought that is being debated, and we need to hear all sides, rather than just the ones we like.

    Michael Hudson is a research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, which is a serious place, so this is no ill-informed screed. I generally like their stuff.

    Hudson first lays the European crisis at the feet of banks and the institutions (ECB, IMF, and the EU) that are taking the Greek (and other) bank debt and putting it into public hands. He has a very real point. Then he points out that Greece is far better off just walking away, a la Iceland (at least read the last part of this post, on Iceland). And in polls he cites, 85% of the Greek people are against taking on the debt and paying the banks.

    As I wrote last week, there is a revolution going on all over Europe, slowly building up as people realize that the “solution” being offered benefits banks and not German taxpayers or Greek creditors. Ireland will be watching. There is no easy way out. If there is a referendum on this new “troika” proposal, it is likely to lose. This is not over.

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  • Macro E.U. — D.O.A.

    I am attending the Global Interdependence Center’s latest conference here in Philadelphia, writing you from the Admiral’s Club on my way to Boston. The chatter last night at dinner and between sessions was focused on the risks in Europe. I did an interview with Aaron Task on Yahoo’s Daily Ticker, where I noted that European leaders are starting to use the word containedwhen they talk about Greece. Shades of Bernanke and subprime. This too will not be contained.

    And that brings us to this week’s Outside the Box. Greg Weldon has graciously allowed me to use his latest missive on Europe’s woes. A teaser:

    “The EU, like the US, suffers from what we might call the 'Cyrenaic Syndrome', a dynamic linked to the ancient Greek philosophers Aristippus and Hegesias of Cyrene, who, in 3rd and 4th Centuries BC, hypothesized that the goal of life was the avoidance of pain and suffering. Addicts accomplish this thru substance abuse. The EU is trying to accomplish this thru pure denial, and an outright refusal to accept that austerity, like sobriety, is the ONLY way to actually deal with the problems it faces.”

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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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  • Europe: The State of the Banking System

    In the last six months, the eurozone has faced its biggest economic challenge to date - one sparked by the Greek debt crisis which has migrated to the rest of the monetary union. But well before the sovereign debt crisis, Europe was facing a full-blown banking crisis that did not seem any closer to being resolved than when it began in late 2008. With investors and markets focused on European governments' debt problems, the banking issues have largely been ignored. However, the sovereign debt crisis and banking crisis have become intertwined and could feed off each other in the near future.

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  • Germany, Greece and Exiting the Eurozone

    The cause célèbre these days is the potential reconstitution of the eurozone: ie, Germany leaving it, or Greece getting kicked out. To look a little deeper, today I'm sending you STRATFOR's take on these two scenarios. STRATFOR explores the geography of the continent and the historical context of the EU to understand what a German exit or a Greek expulsion might mean for the rest of the region....
  • The Death of Capital

    Was it only last week I was expressing outrage that US taxpayers would have to pick up the check for Greek profligacy in the form of IMF guarantees? This morning we wake to up the sound of $250 BILLION in IMF guarantees for a European rescue fund, most of which will go to countries that are eventually (in my opinion) going to default. That is $50 billion in US taxpayer guarantees. Not sure what that translates into for Britain or Canada or Australia.

    I can swallow the Fed dollar swaps to the ECB. Don't really like it, but I can deal with it, as I don't think it will ultimately put US tax-payers at risk, as long as the swaps are in dollar terms. But the IMF bailout is just wrong.

    Interestingly, the euro shot up on the announcement in what was now clearly short covering. As I write this, it is almost back down to where it started. That seems to me to be a vote of 'I don't believe you.' We will see. But if the ECB actually goes ahead and floods the market with liquidity, that will be very good for all types of risk assets....
  • The Global Crisis of Legitimacy

    From my friend George Friedman, founder & CEO of STRATFOR, here's my newest favorite quote concerning economic recessions: 'Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious.' The thin line of where risky becomes reckless is something I'd like to focus us on today. No matter the risk-level of your portfolio, if you are reading this you are probably smart enough to know that when you play with fire you may get burned. You have to know how to look for smoke, or signs of a potential catastrophe, so you know not to grab the doorknob with both hands.

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  • Was the Demise of the USSR a Negative Event?

    Let's have a thought game. What if the Eurozone breaks up? My friend and very serious philosophical thinker Charles Gave (of GaveKal) thinks that would be a positive event. To quote his conclusion:

    'But we return to the most simple of questions, namely: Was the end of the USSR a negative event? When Americans stopped wasting capital building empty condos in Florida or Arizona, was that bad news? If, like us, our reader answers 'no' to the above questions, then the Greek crisis should be seen as a reason for hope, rather than despair.'

    Now, that is a truly Outside the Box proposition and one which I found very compelling. His partner, Anatole Kaletsky, elsewhere argues that the ECB will enlarge their mandate to try and save the day by printing enormous sums of money, ultimately making things worse....
  • 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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