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  • Knowledge and Power

    In last week’s Thoughts from the Frontline I talked about the Age of Transformation, attempting to refute Robert’s Gordon rather stark and gloomy view of the future growth potential of the economy. That letter generated a rather significant amount of reader response, both pro and con, as not everyone agrees with my decidedly optimistic long-term view of the future. It might be fun and thought-provoking, in fact, to do a letter that deals with some of the issues you raised. I really do have some of the smartest readers of any economics and investing letter out there.

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  • Earnings Growth to Ramp Up? Call Me a Skeptic

    In today’s Outside the Box, Sheraz Mian, Director of Research for Zacks Investment Research, gives us an overview of corporate earnings trends for the past several quarters and consensus expectations going forward, and asks, “How realistic are these expectations?”

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  • Debt, Growth, and the Austerity Debate

    Two weeks ago I wrote about the current debate over the 2010 paper by Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart (hereinafter referred to as RR) on the correlation between debt and GDP growth. I said that the most important part of their work, which is the construction of an enormous database on debt and financial crises over the last few hundred years, was to be found in their book This Time Is Different and elsewhere. And their fundamental conclusion: debt is not a problem until it becomes one. And then it reaches a critical mass and you have what they called the Bang! moment.

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  • 2012 Investment Themes

    As my good friend Gary Shilling says, in leading off his piece on 2012 investment themes, which is this week’s OTB, “This year is just the first step in the long-run journey that will continue to be dominated by The Age of Deleveraging” – which also just happens to be the title of Gary’s latest book. Whether you call it that or call it the End Game, as I have, it shapes up as a profoundly different and challenging era for all of us. Gary identifies 9 causes of slow global growth in the years ahead:

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  • Absolute Zero

    It was Gary Shilling – way back in the last century – who first woke me up to the real whys and wherefores of deflation, with his 1998 best-seller, Deflation: Why it's coming, whether it's good or bad, and how it will affect your investments, business, and personal affairs. I had read various works on deflation, but nowhere was it put together as well as Gary did it. He followed it up the next year with Deflation: How to survive and thrive in the coming wave of deflation, and in that one he strongly urged his readers out of the stock market – just ahead of the 2000 dot-com bubble burst. But Gary has been so right over the past three decades. (He recently updated Deflation with The Age of Deleveraging: Investment Strategies for a Decade of Slow Growth and Deflation. It’s on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Age-Deleveraging.

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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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  • The Importance of Start-ups

    This weekend I wrote about the problems of being an entrepreneur in our Muddle Through Economy. I would like to follow that up with two brief (but somewhat controversial) essays on two aspects of starting up small businesses. The first, by Vivek Wadhwa, points out that start-ups account for all of the net new jobs, and is a summary of a paper from the Kaufman Foundation. (You can read the 12 page paper at http://www.kauffman.org/uploadedFiles/firm_formation_importance_of_startups.pdf)

    The second is by my friend William C. Dunkelberg, the Chief Economist of the National Federation of Independent Business. He asks a very simple question: Why is thrift getting such a bad name? And if we take the potential savings from “the rich,” where will the savings come from to invest in start-ups?

    Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University.

    The both make for thought-provoking reading, and offer some challenges to the conventional wisdom, which is what Outside the Box is supposed to do.

    Your doing his part by creating start-ups analyst,

    John Mauldin, Editor Outside the Box

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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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  • Where Will the Growth Come From?

    Today we read a piece sent to me by my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal (and who will be at my conference in April). It is entitled "Where Will the Growth Come From?" It reminds us of the lessons that Harry gave me. Each person and company is responsible for their own part of the recovery. You can't rely on mass statistics, or you miss the important lesson in individual responsibility. I don't think anyone can accuse me of being bullish the past few years. Interestingly, I get a lot of emails from people telling me the end of the world is coming, and deriding my longer-term optimism. They are convinced we are going into some deep national morass worse than the Great Depression (and such deflationary times will somehow make their gold go to $3,000!?!?). Yet they are working to make sure their own personal worlds are covered. I get no letters from people who are simply giving up. What company will keep a CEO who does not work hard to figure out how to keep the company alive? If you lose your job, do you not try and get another one or figure out how to make ends meet? Do you not put in extra hours to try and make your personal life or business or job better? Even if it is terribly difficult, the very large majority of people don't throw in the towel. Each of us, in our own way, gets up every morning to fight the good fight, even when the swamp is full of more alligators than we ever counted on. We just pick up a baseball bat, wade into the swamp, kill as many alligators as we can in one day, and then go home to get ready to fight the next day....
  • The Dash To Trash And The Grab For Growth

    This week we look at a very thoughtful essay by an old Outside the Box friend James Montier. James is now working at Societe Generale in London. He is one of the truly great minds on the psychology of investing, as well as proving great research on how...