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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • MACRO-EUROPE: The Titanic is SINKING

    This is a special Outside the Box. I got this letter from my good friend Greg Weldon last night and got permission to pass it on to you. I think it illustrates the problems that the world is facing from the sovereign debt crisis that is building in Europe.

    There are no good solutions here, only very difficult ones. In order to get financing, Greece must willingly put itself into a multi-year depression. And borrowing more money when it cannot afford to pay back what it has will not solve the problem. 61% of Greeks now favor leaving the euro. How has Greece responded? By banning short selling on its stock market for the next two months. That should make things better. Greeks are responding by rioting and going on strike. But you truly know when a country is dysfunctional when its AIR FORCE goes on strike. Yesterday Reuters reported that hundreds of Greek pilots called in sick in protest. The response from government? The Minister of Defense said he was 'profoundly disappointed.' Now that had to make the pilots feel bad.

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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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  • Germany: Mitteleuropa Redux

    With the establishment of the euro in the 1990s, speculation was abundant on how things would play out. In the last fews months we've seen that cheap credit for the Club Med countries came at a price, and now it's time to look at who will come out on top after the current economic crisis. There is a term for this type of global analysis: geopolitical intelligence. STRATFOR, a global intelligence company, uses geography, open source data, HUMINT, and a deep understanding of global affairs to produce analysis with a geopolitical perspective.

    Today I'm including their take on Germany's changing role in the EU. But it is only a small sample of all they provide, so I encourage you to sign up for their free mailing list or become a member for greater access to features including Quarterly and Annual Forecasts that will put you ahead of the game.

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  • Has Germany just killed the dream of a European superstate?

    While the US was focused on the health care drama over the weekend, over across the pond events are rapidly deteriorating in euro land. For this week's Outside the Box I offer two columns, one from the Financial Times and another from the London Telegraph. Both describe the problems that the eurozone faces. It is not pretty.

    I was sent this note from a Steve Stough who translated this from a German TV news show' It is a nice set-up for the two short columns.

    I was reading an interview with Germany's most-quoted economist and then, all of a sudden, his face pops up on a TV show (a panel discussion on Germany's version of Fox Business News) at the same time, so I paid close attention. Hans-Werner Sinn's remarks are apparently listened to as closely as are the Federal Reserve Chairman's remarks in the US.

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  • An Attempt to Think Through the Greek Crisis

    Today I am sitting listening to Robert Merkle lecture on nanotechnology, part of a 9 day long series of lectures on how accelerating change in technologies of all types will affect our world. 15 hour days and intense discussions are stretching my brain, but I still have to make sure you get your Outside the Box. Fortunately, I came across today's OTB last week from my friends at GaveKal, where they offer a way to think about the Greek crisis and what it means for all European bonds.

    There is a lot of allegations about manipulation of the European bonds. Its those nasty traders. GaveKal shows us data that bond yields are actually quite logical given the debt of various countries. But they also, as part of their conclusions, warn us.

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  • A Five-Step Guide to Contagion

    We were all assured by Ben Bernanke that the subprime problem would be contained. In this week's Outside the Box, my good friend Todd Harrison, founder and CEO of Minyanville (www.minyanville.com) wonders about what contagion from Greece and sovereign debt crisis would look like. Todd is a very thoughtful investor and trader, and someone who I pay attention to. He has created a community of analysts and traders at www.minyanville.com that is quite unique. They graciously post my work each week as well as that of a lot of really interesting people from all over. Plus, they offer running commentary by dozens of analysts on what's happening in the markets real time. There is something for everyone, even a place to help teach your kids about money and finance. Check it out.

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  • February Economic Report

    Before we get to this week's Outside the Box, a quick note about my writing on Greece in last Saturday's letter. I made the point that if Greece defaults it does not necessarily mean they have to leave the EU, any more than if Illinois defaulted they would have to leave the United States. Greece could still use the euro and life could go on. EXCEPT. The markets would no longer lend the Greek government money at anything close to a livable rate. Greece would be forced to balance its budget. Since they are part of the euro, devaluing the currency is not an option. The results of controlling their fiscal deficit would not initially be pretty and would almost insure a serious prolonged recession or depression in the Greek area, with fall out in the region. It would be a sad decade for Greece. But in the long run, it is a better option than default.

    Further, and more important to the rest of Europe and the world, the results of a Greek default would be financial turmoil. 250 billion euros (and maybe 300!) of Greek debt is in international bond funds, pension and insurance companies, and above all at banks. Think German banks. Already undercapitalized banks. Also, think of all the investment banks who have been selling relatively cheap (given the apparent risk) credit default swaps on Greece, in an unregulated market, exposing their balance sheets. What should be a simple, if sad, matter for the Greeks, becomes a problem for the world, just as subprime debt in the US caused a world credit crisis. And the risk of contagion from Portugal, Spain, et al is serious. 2 trillion euros of debt could get downgraded by the bond market in very short order. It could be a replay of the last credit crisis, just with new actors as the prime problem....
  • 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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  • Government Debt Spirals

    I have been writing about sovereign debt risk for some time. Japan, Spain, Italy and Portugal are all facing serious fiscal deficits and funding problems within a few years. But Greece may be the first country to hit the wall. In today's Outside the Box, we look at a short column by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the London Telegraph on the problems facing Greece. Greece will soon be faced with deciding which bad choice to make among a very small set of really bad, difficult choices.

    And then we turn to a piece by Edmund Andrews in the New York Times about the funding problem facing the US. The US is going to have to borrow at a minimum $3.5 trillion in the next three years according to Obama administration officials, and it is likely to be much higher. And rates are likely to be rising. As Andrews notes "Even a small increase in interest rates has a big impact. An increase of one percentage point in the Treasury's average cost of borrowing would cost American taxpayers an extra $80 billion this year." If interest rates were at the same level as a few years ago, interest costs on the debt this year would be $221 billion more than they actually were.

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