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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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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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  • A Limited Central Bank

    This week’s Outside the Box is unusual, even for a letter that is noted for its unusual offerings. It is a speech from last week by Charles I. Plosser, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia at (surprisingly to me) the Cato Institute’s 31st Annual Monetary Conference, Washington, DC.

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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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  • Exit, Schmexit

    In last week's Outside the Box, which included a paper from the San Francisco Federal Reserve on the effectiveness of quantitative easing, I wrote, "What [authors] Cúrdia and Ferrero are really saying is that the latest round of QE, massive as it has been, has not had all that much effect on the economy, and that other factors should be taken into account. I'm sure this thesis is somewhat controversial, and I look forward to seeing what QE proponents like David Zervos over at Jefferies have to say about it."

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  • What Has QE Actually Accomplished?

    As I’ve highlighted over the last few months, I’m pretty well convinced that there is something more fundamental going on. And that even bigger changes may be coming in the near future. This week we look at two pithy analyses of the likely effectiveness of Fed tapering and what it might portend.

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  • Are Earnings Expectations Realistic?

    In today’s Outside the Box, Sheraz Mian, Director of Research for Zacks Investment Research, gives us a thorough overview of corporate earnings trends for the past several quarters, along with consensus expectations for this year and next. Then he asks,How realistic are these expectations?”

    Not very, he says, and proceeds to tell us why. If we accept his analysis – and he admits right up front that it runs counter to the consensus – then we should be asking ourselves, how does a potential falloff in earnings vs. expectations matter, and why is it important at this particular juncture? I’ll let Sheraz answer those questions, too – he does so convincingly – but I’ll just add that his analysis is a significant piece in the puzzle we’re all putting together here in this tipping-point year of 2013.

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  • Out On A Limb: An Investor’s Guide to X-treme Monetary and Fiscal Conditions

    I landed in Buenos Aires early this morning and have a day layover before heading off to Cafayate; but it is time to send you this weekend's Outside the Box, and what a wonderful, powerful piece it is. I read John Hussman's latest on the way down and had to review it several times. There is just so much meat here. And more than his usual quota of those wonderful graphs he comes up with. Did you know there is a 94% correlation between the price of beer in Iceland and the S&P 500? This is a teaching moment we must heed!

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  • Catastrophic Success

    New readers to my musings often find it interesting, when they meet me in person, to find me quite an optimistic person, given the nature of my current predictions about the economy. And regarding the short term, defined as less than five years, my writing is admittedly less than sanguine. We do have some problems that are not easily dealt with. And even longer-term, those of a bearish natural disposition can find reasons a-plenty to tone it down.

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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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  • It’s All Greek To Me

    Long-time readers will be familiar with Michael Lewitt, one of my favorite thinkers and analysts. He has gone off on his own to write his letter, and I am encouraging him to write even more. I call Michael a thinker because he really does. He reads a lot of thought-provoking tomes and then thinks about them. And then writes, making his readers think. The world needs more Michael Lewitts.

    Today, he roams the world, commenting as he goes, starting of course with Europe. I have permission to use the first half of this most recent letter as today’s Outside the Box, leaving off the investment recommendations that he shares with his subscribers. If you are interested you can subscribe at www.thecreditstrategist.com.

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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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  • Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook

    Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington of Hoisington Investment Management write a “Quarterly Review and Outlook” that is a must-read for me. This quarter they focus on US monetary policy, noting that “After peaking at 1.69 in the second quarter of 2010, M2 velocity declined for four consecutive quarters, and we estimate that a major contraction in velocity to 1.59 is likely for the third quarter.” (I mentioned the importance of the velocity of money in judging inflation vs. deflation prospects in this week’s e-letter, too.)

    They say, “If our analysis of a new contraction in GDP is correct, the U.S. economy should be viewed as operating in the midst of a long-term slump, regardless of terminology.”

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