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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Dare to Be Great II

    I can’t tell you how many thousands of hours I have spent, over the years, thinking about, reading about, and talking about how to be a consistently successful investor; but I can tell you this: I’m still working at it. And once in a while – less frequently as the years pass, it seems – I come across investment advice that strikes me as fundamentally strong, innovative, and worth assimilating.

    I feel that way about today’s Outside the Box. It’s a client memo sent last week by Howard Marks, founder and chairman of Oaktree Capital Management. He calls it “Dare to Be Great II,” since it’s a follow-up to the famous memo by that name he wrote in 2006.

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  • Hollow Men, Hollow Markets, Hollow World

    I’m sitting in the British Airways lounge at Heathrow terminal 5, or in other words in my usual office, and trying to catch up on my reading. I was particularly intrigued by my good friend and economic philosopher Ben Hunt’s latest Epsilon Theory post, which he calls “Hollow Men, Hollow Markets, Hollow World.” As he points out, an increasingly smaller portion of trading in the markets is between individuals looking to actually own a fractional portion of a public company for the long term. Instead, trading is gravitating to machines competing with each other in milliseconds and for a profit of milli-cents.

    In today’s OTB, Ben Hunt doesn’t really focus all that much on high-frequency trading but rather on the fact that so much of economics and investing itself is hollow. Our job, he says, is to find the signal amidst all the noise. This is an Outside the Box that you will need to think through as opposed to merely read.

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  • Euthanasia of the Economy?

    Today's Outside the Box comes to us from my good friend and business partner Niels Jensen of Absolute Return Partners in London. Niels gives us an excellent summary of how QE has affected the global economy (and how it hasn't). I have found myself paraphrasing Niels all week.

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  • Uttin’ On the Itz

    Last Thursday, prior to the FOMC announcement, I was having an early lunch with Kyle Bass so he could get back to the office in time for the announcement. As we were finishing up, I was invited to come sit with another group of friends and traders who also happened to be in the same restaurant. Everyone was sure there would be some type of tapering. That message had been clearly communicated to the markets. When the announcement came, the telephones went off and everyone erupted with various forms of surprise. I fully admit to being speechless. I kept waiting for some kind of explanation, and none came. The more we talked about it and the more I thought about it later, the more convinced I became that this was one of the more ham-handed policy announcements from the Fed in a very long time. Why would you go to the trouble of getting the market all ready for the onset of tapering, build expectations, and then jerk out the rug? What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on?

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  • The Euro Debate Gets Philosophical

    Europe is rapidly approaching the denouement, the Endgame, of its currency experiment. The outcome is not clear, at least to your humble analyst, as the debates rage and there are huge pluses and minuses the 17 nations must decide upon. But the proverbial road down which the can is tumbling and clattering, kicked along haphazardly, is coming to its end, and soon a rather sharp turn, either to the left or to the right, will be required. Let us hope they choose wisely.

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  • A Special John Mauldin Outside the Box: Taking Control of Your World

    Today I offer something a little different from normal economic fare. As I keep saying, I think it is important that as business people and entrepreneurs we look for ways to increase our business while others are pulling back. While innovation can mean new technologies (and their costs!), in my experience it is often even better to figure out a new way to offer your products and services to the market, leveraging (in a good way!) your existing work.

    Today, simply because you are one of my 1 million closest friends, I have arranged for you to receive absolutely free and with no strings attached some of the best (if not THE best) marketing and innovation materials I have ever read, from a long-time friend of mine who has sold this information for tens of thousands of dollars (and more!). It is my way of saying thanks for allowing me to come into your life each week. (The link is near the end of the letter.)

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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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  • Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

    Do we need a law that makes it illegal to push a moose out of a moving aircraft? In baseball, what are the odds of a perfect game? How difficult will it be to solve the problems of the Eurozone? These and other issues are meditated upon by Grant Williams in his Things That Make You Go Hmmm… letter, which is this week’s Outside the Box. Maybe it was the baseball set-up (as my Rangers battle the Cardinals in the World Series) or that I keep getting asked about Europe here in New Orleans at the 2011 Oppenheimer Wealth Management Roundtable, but Grant really pulled me through his weekly missive when I got started, and I believe you will enjoy it as well. Long and short, Grant lays out the problems that we face in a very realistic assessment. I will also point out that he makes me look like a euro-optimist.

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  • Is the US Monetary System on the Verge of Collapse?

    This week we take in a piece that is somewhat outside my own box. There are a number of people who feel strongly that the US (and world governments in general) cannot pull out of the downward spiral they are in, that monetary policy is fixed on printing ever more money, and that the problems of fiat currencies are now coming to the fore.

    I was interviewed last week by David Galland and Doug Casey of Casey Research. Those of you familiar with them know they (and especially Doug) have a strong libertarian bent and a distrust of government. Not all that unusual, of course, except that they work at finding ways to invest based on their philosophy. That has meant a lot of gold and natural resources, plus new tech, which has worked at rather well overall.

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  • Things That Make You Go Hmmm…

    I love Grant Williams and his writing in his letter Things That Make You Go Hmmm... And this week's Outside the Box is the first section from his recent post, where he starts with a brief history of Gadhafi and ends up giving us a tutorial on oil pricing. This may be "inside baseball" (too much detail) for some of you; but these details are important, as the very ground of oil pricing is shifting away from the traditional sources. What will the mainstream media do? Wonder when they will shift, which will result in a LOT higher costs for most of the world. Besides, this is a fun read, and Grant is a great writer.

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  • Some Problems With Banks

    This week your Outside the Box offers two views, one from the US and one from Europe, both dealing with banks and financing. First, back in July, my friend Chris Whalen at Institutional Risk Analytics wrote an important comment about how the situation in the housing market is blocking efforts by the Fed to stabilize the US economy. IRA is a rating agency that follows every US bank and consults for a number of large commercial and governmental institutions on bank performance and risk.

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  • Dynamic Economic Decision Making

    This week’s Outside the Box is from my good friend John Silvia, the Chief Economist at Wells Fargo and fishing buddy in Maine. He has written a powerhouse book called Dynamic Economic Decision Making: Strategies for Financial Risk, Capital Markets, and Monetary Policy.

    Combining three intellectual disciplines – economics, business, and decision making– that have traditionally been taught separately, Dynamic Economic Decision Making forges a new path that redefines how we view business choices. And that is the main point of the book. So many business leaders and investors make decisions based on static factors, historical patterns, or straight-line assumptions that it is no wonder that all too many bad decisions are made. And worse, we train our MBAs to approach decision making with outmoded tools that have proved themselves worthless in the real world.

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  • You Need This Dirty Word, Euro Bonds

    This week's Outside the Box is in the tradition of showing the other side of the argument. Normally, anything George Soros says or does politically has my blood pressure up about 20 points. Yet, I posted another piece of his today in Over My Shoulder – and then ran across this longer piece from Der Spiegel. Note this is from a dedicated Europhile wanting to save the euro. He succintly outlines what must be done if it is to be saved, and does it as well as anyone. (I know that among my readers there are both likers and haters of Soros, but as an observer of markets he is to be respected. And this is an article in which his acumen is in evidence.

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  • Germany's Choice: Part 2

    For today's special edition OTB, let's turn our fiscal eye across the pond to all that's going haywire in Europe. But not the continent's banking crisis, per se. Today's piece takes a broad look at who's really running the show. I'll give you a hint - they've done it before, and it wasn't too long ago. The folks at STRATFOR (a global intelligence publication) have spent the better part of two years saying that Germany will run Europe. The newly redesigned EFSF (European Financial Security Facility) can be considered concrete evidence of such.

    From Berlin's point of view, the Eurozone is its sphere of influence, and its preservation is in Germany's national security interest. It's a new Europe, where Germany's not just the checkbook anymore, but holds some reins.

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  • Three Competing Theories

    Long-time readers are familiar with the wisdom of Lacy Hunt. He is a regular feature of Outside the Box. He writes a quarterly piece for Hoisington Asset Management in Austin, and this is one of his better ones. Read it twice.

    “While the massive budget deficits and the buildup of federal debt, if not addressed, may someday result in a substantial increase in interest rates, that day is not at hand. The U.S. economy is too fragile to sustain higher interest rates except for interim, transitory periods that have been recurring in recent years. As it stands, deflation is our largest concern …”

    As I write, Europe is starting to unravel. This is going to be much worse than 2008, at least as far as Europe is concerned, and odds are high that it will be very bad for the US. And the markets are still acting as if the problems in Europe can be resolved. The recent bank stress tests were a joke, as they assumed no Greek or Irish defaults. This simply can’t be. There is a banking crisis of massive proportions in our future.

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