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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Challenging the Consensus

    It’s been a busy week here in Dallas, but then aren't they all lately? But it’s good to be busy at home for the next few weeks. Lots of material to be written and edited, plans to be made, and trips to be scheduled, of course. My current sedentary lifestyle will soon revert to its normal peripatetic frenzy, but it’s good to give the body a bit of rest. Enjoy your week.

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  • Hoisington Investment Management: Quarterly Review and Outlook Fourth Quarter 2013

    Last week Greg Weldon made the case for rising interest rates on US treasuries. This week Lacy Hunt offers us the case for a continued low-interest-rate environment for long-term treasuries. This is one of the most fascinating tugs-of-war in the investment world today. I’ve made the argument that we are in a deflationary deleveraging world for quite some time to come, or at least until the velocity of money turns around. Lacy makes that point, too, and offers some insights into the velocity of money. This is a fascinating Outside the Box, and I won’t spoil it by stealing any more of Lacy’s thunder.

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  • Bad Omens

    We have clearly been in a recent run of higher interest rates, with a looming "threat" that there might be less quantitative easing before the end of the year. It would appear now that Bernanke wants to leave his successor to implement what everyone knows must be coming at some point: a return to a normal interest-rate environment. While rising interest rates are bad for me personally (for another four months), a return to normalcy would be good for our future – though the transition is likely to be bumpy.

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  • Where Are Rates Headed And Why?

    This week we look at two brief essays for your Outside the Box. The first is my friend Barry Habib talking to us about where mortgage rates are headed. Barry gives us a very simple, but logical analysis on why rates are headed up. Then we jump to Spencer Jakab writing in the Financial Times about the problems in the municipal markets. Seems we may be under funded on our public pensions by about $3.5 trillion.

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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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  • 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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  • History lesson for economists in thrall to Keynes

    There is a debate in academic circles on the lessons of the current economic crisis. While most ivory tower debates are of little concern to our daily affairs, this debate should concern you, as it will inform those who hold central bank and political power. Remember, there is no playbook of rules for what to do in deflationary, deleveraging recessions. They are making it up as they go along.

    Today we have a short essay by Niall Ferguson published last week in the Financial Times. It speaks for itself, and you should take a few minutes to read it....
  • The Great Experiment

    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 from Hoisington Investment Management Company does just that. Let me give you two quotes to pique your interest: 'Monetary policy works by creating the environment for a renewed borrowing and lending cycle. This cycle would require that the debt to GDP ratio, which is already at a record level, grow even higher. Would such an outcome really be that desirable when the controlling problem of the U.S. economy is too much improperly financed debt? If the Fed were able to engender an increase in the debt to GDP ratio, this might merely serve to postpone the reckoning of the current debt levels while laying the foundation for an even more vicious unwinding down the road.' And: 'The only really viable option for federal stimulus is a permanent reduction in the marginal tax rates, as highlighted in the research of Christina Romer, incoming Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. This would have the benefit of raising after tax rates of return, but the drawback in the short run of still having to be financed by an increased budget deficit. Over time, a massive reduction in marginal tax rates would be beneficial, but the operative word is time. Refunds, or transitory tax relief, will have no better results in stemming the recessionary tide in 2009 and 2010 than it did in the spring of 2008.' Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar on the current bailout programs that is not the usual analysis we see in mainstream media. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort....
  • Setting the Bull Trap

    Yesterday I sent you an Outside the Box from Paul McCulley who supports the government and Fed activity (in general) in the current economic crisis. Today we look at an opposing view from Bennet Sedacca of Atlantic Advisors. He asks some very interesting questions like: Shouldn't the consumer, after decades of over-consumption, be allowed to digest the over-indebtedness and save, rather than be encouraged to take risk? Shouldn't companies, no matter what of view, if run poorly, be allowed to fail or forced to restructure? Should taxpayer money be used to make up for the mishaps at financial institutions or should we allow them to wallow in their own mistakes? I think you will find this a very thought-provoking Outside the Box....
  • The End of the Inflation Scare?

    I mentioned in last Saturday's letter a report by Louis Gave of GaveKal fame on whether inflation may be waning and its importance. Louis gave me permission to use it as this week's Outside the Box. It is typical of the thoughtful analytical work they do. Louis and his partners and associates at GaveKal write some of the more thought-provoking material I read. They really challenge my position on numerous matters, causing me to look at many items from a different view. That of course, makes this particular piece good for Outside the Box. Whether you agree or disagree, you need to know why you hold a position. If you can't articulate the "against," how can you be sure you truly understand the "for"? I think given the current debate on inflation, this week's Outside the Box is a must read....
  • A Kind Word for Inflation

    This week's Outside the Box will challenge a few of your base assumptions. Paul McCulley, the managing director at PIMCO, offers us a kind word for inflation and the reasons that the Fed will be on hold for a lot longer than the markets currently think. And part of that is to avoid a real recession or even a depression. Getting this debate right is important. These are indeed interesting times we live in. I look forward to being with Paul at the end of July on our Maine fishing expedition, where he can defend his proposition to the group of economists and analysts gathered there. Have a great week....
  • Two Essays on the Continuing Financial Crisis

    This week in Outside the Box we look at two brief essays which give us different perspective on the Continuing Crisis. The first is by Mohamed El-Erian, the co-chief executive and co-chief investment officer of Pimco. His book, 'When Markets Collide...
  • Quarterly Review and Outlook - First Quarter 2008

    This week's Outside the Box is from my friends at Hoisington Management. While somewhat technical, they make the case that a slowdown in consumer spending is inevitable. This is worth taking some time and thinking about. Quoting: "This means...
  • Let's Get Real About Bear

    This week's Outside the Box is going to be a little different. I am going to write about the extraordinary action by the NY Fed to foster the Bear Stearns deal with JP Morgan, and give you three brief notes from Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital Management...
  • The Next Dominos: Junk Bond And Counterparty Risk

    The subprime problem, we were told, would not spread to other markets. It would be "contained." And it has, according to Jim Grant. He quipped last week that it has been contained on planet Earth. The risks coming from rising defaults in the...