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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Calling Into Question

    A note has been circulating among economists, calling into question the wisdom of another group of economists who wrote an open letter to the Federal Reserve a few years ago suggesting that one of the risks of their quantitative easing program was increased inflation. Since we have not seen CPI inflation, this latter group is calling upon the former to admit they were wrong, that quantitative easing does not in fact cause inflation. To no one’s surprise, Paul Krugman has written rather nastily and arrogantly about the lack of CPI inflation.

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  • The Language of Inflation

    My good friend Dylan Grice takes a very interesting tack in the latest issue of his Edelweiss Journal, today's Outside the Box. Rather than attacking our macroeconomic problems directly with economic tools, he approaches them from the point of view of what he calls a "subtle but significant devaluation of language." Now, you might think that the words we use to describe and understand the economy are not in themselves very powerful economic determinants, but Dylan lays out a convincing case to the contrary.

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  • Is The Government Lying To Us About Inflation? Yes!

    In today’s Outside the Box, Gary D. Halbert (my old and very dear friend and former business partner of many years) reminds us about a few significant facts concerning the Consumer Price Index (CPI) that mainstream economists and the media tend to ignore. The central question is whether the CPI is really indicative of the actual inflation rate. Not likely, says Gary, since the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which compiles the CPI, has engaged in methodological shenanigans over the past couple decades (as has been well documented by John Williams of ShadowStats, among others). The upshot of all their monkeying with the numbers is that the official rate of inflation may be two to four times lower than the actual rate (which is rather convenient if you’re a government bureaucrat trying to hold down interest costs and Social Security payments).

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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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  • What Bernanke Doesn’t Understand

    This week’s Outside the Box is an incendiary blog written by Steve Keen on debt deflation and GDP growth. I am not certain as to his math (is he double counting debt and consumer spending?) but he does illustrate very well the problem of a deleveraging recession, which I have been writing about for a long time. This is just a different type of recession we are in. So rather than fret over the absolute certainty of the math, read this for an understanding of the nature of the problems we face. He has the direction right, I think, which is the important part for us to grasp.

    Then he just now posted a second blog on Quantitative Easing, which he ends with pointing out why it might “work” but also suggests that it would lead to yet another financial bubble. Again, very Outside the Box thinking. It has me going ‘hmmm.”

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  • Demographics, Destiny and Asset Markets

    I am in Minnesota this morning doing a speech, but do have a very good candidate for this week’s Outside the Box. Tony Boeckh just published a piece by George Magnus on demographics and the markets that I think is very thought-provoking. Demographics is something I think about a lot and you should too. I will let Tony do the introduction of George.

    Have a good week. My goal is to write this Friday’s letter a little early so that I can get in some fishing time. And when you look at today’s ISM number, look past the headline number, which is just fine, and look at the weakness in the leading indicators. New orders declined by 5 points to 53.5, its lowest level since June 2009. Also, imports slowed noticeably, which is a bad omen for domestic demand. Overall, the ISM index suggests that real GDP and factory output slowed early this quarter.

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  • Print baby, print ... emerging value and the quest to buy inflation

    This week I thought I would give you an Outside the Box with a more European flavor, as I am in Tuscany at the moment and on to Paris later this week and then back here for a working weekend with partners. Life is tough. :-)

    Dylan Grice of Societe Generale (based in London) is fast becoming one of my favorite writers. This thought-provoking piece makes us meditate on whether central banks will print money in response to the fiscal crisis in the developed world countries. I am not certain that all central banks will print with abandon, BUT we need to think about what happens if they do.

    I need to hit the send button now, as we are off to watch Italy in the World Cup in a little village (Montisi) where they have set up screens in the town square. My first connection with European football live with crazy fans and all! Should be fun!

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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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  • Between a Rock and a Hard Place

    There is the strong possibility that policy makers in the US and UK will not time the transition from the current quantitative easing to a more tightened monetary policy. That is not because they are no competent. It is because the task is very tricky and there is no play book outlining the steps. This is not Tom Landry (former Dallas Cowboy coach) pacing the field with a play for every situation already planned and practiced well in advance.

    The odds favor they will either be too late or too early. Getting it 'just right.' The Goldilocks play, would be more than fortunate. In fact, there may be no right play to call. They may be forced to choose between a slower economy and/or inflation/deflation. And as this week's Outside the Box authors note, there is also the possibility of yet another asset bubble, making the choices even more risky.

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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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  • Make Sure You Get This One Right

    There are those who sweat over every decision, worrying about how it will affect their lives and investments. Then there is the school of thought that we should focus on the big decisions. I am of the latter school.

    85% of investment returns are a result of asset class allocations and only 15% come from actually picking investment within the asset class. Getting the big picture right is critical. In this week's Outside the Box we look at a very well written essay about the biggest of all question in front of us today. Do we face deflation or inflation?

    This OTB is by my good friends and business partners in London, Niels Jensen and his team at Absolute Return Partners....
  • Quarterly Review and Outlook - First Quarter 2009

    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. And this week's letter does just that. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation and our experience to be rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation.

    Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar 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.

    Now, if you put all of the various inputs together, Hoisington and Hunt show that theory suggests we will soon be dealing with deflation. It's counter- intuitive to what we hear today, which is why the Bank for International Settlements used the stagflation word in a recent report. The transition that is coming will not be comfortable....
  • Roadmap To Inflation And Sources Of Cheap Insurance

    What happens when inflation once again returns. As this week's Outside the Box writer, James Montier, writes, we may want to start thinking now about inflation insurance and he mentions a few ways to do so. But this letter is a must read for his bringing to light a speech by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke in 2000 given to the Japanese, where he suggest inflation targeting:

    'In the speech, he laid out a menu of policy options that are available to the monetary authorities at the zero bound. First, aggressive currency depreciation, as per Romer's analysis of the end of the Great Depression. Second on Bernanke's list is the introduction of an inflation target to help mould the public's expectations about the central bank's desire for inflation. He mentions the range of 3-4%!'

    I think you will find this week's OTB to be exceptionally thought provoking. Montier is one of my favorite economic thinkers (and a good friend). He works for Societe Generale in London in their Cross Asset Research group....
  • Inflation Is Not The Problem

    This week we are going to do something unusual for Outside the Box. Normally I take an essay and send it to you to read. Today I am going to give you a link and strongly suggest you click to it. Long time readers are familiar with friend and comrade James Montier, who along with Albert Edwards, migrated to Societe Generale earlier this year. They are co-heads of Global Cross Asset Strategy and based in London. Kate Welling does some of the best interviews anywhere in her Welling@Weeden letter, and this one of Montier and Edwards is typical of her immensely enjoyable style. She gave my good friend Prieur du Plessis permission to reprint the letter, and I provide you with a link to his blog and if you scroll down 6 short paragraphs you get the link to the letter, which includes the graphics and is much more fun than just me cutting and pasting. You can also subscribe to Prieur's blog if you wish. Once a week he provides a very useful review of what was written the previous week....
  • Quarterly Review and Outlook - Second Quarter 2008

    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. And this week's letter does just that. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation and our experience to be rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation. Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar on why it will be deflation that will ultimately be the problem and not the current inflation we are dealing with today. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort. Remember our lesson from Economics 101. If you raise the supply of something, in normal markets the price goes down. And if you increase the price, suppliers will respond by producing more....