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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook

    The "Quarterly Review and Outlook" from Hoisington Investment Management is one of the most significant pieces that crosses my desk – I try and drop everything else as soon as possible. This quarter's is no exception. The authors, Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington, get right down to brass tacks with their opening sentence: "As the U.S. economy enters 2012, the gross government debt-to-GDP ratio stands near 100%." They cite an influential 2010 historical study of high-debt-level economies around the world, by Professors Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, that concluded that when a country's gross government debt rises above 90% of GDP, "median growth rates fall by one percent, and average growth falls considerably more."

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  • Insolvency Too

    As readers know, I was in Europe a few weeks ago, making a LOT of presentations. My London-based partners seem to feel that an hour or two of down time is wasted and only for sissies. I learn as much as I impart, and come away with lots of interesting information. Every now and then I learn something that gets into the category of what in the wide, wide world of (multiple expletives deleted) economics is going on? Subprime was like that when I first read about it. Could you really design CDOs that were so patently absurd and then sell them to the Europeans and Asians? Turns out you could.

    Last week, Niels Jensen (head of Absolute Return Partners) and I were talking with a variety of pension funds. They started telling us about this thing called Solvency II. Outside the arcane world of European pension funds and insurance companies, it is not on the radar screen of most people. But it may be one of the more explosive problems in our future. Cutting to the chase, the new rules require insurance companies and pension funds to buy more bonds to match their liabilities. But as yields go down they are required to buy yet MORE bonds and then yields go down some more. And so on. The possibility of serious defaults by these same pension funds in the wake of these new rules (setting aside whether it makes sense to actually require pension funds to set aside enough assets to pay their obligations) is all too real. And more pervasive than we now think.

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  • Sovereign Subjects: Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, but How

    As I am traveling in Europe for a few more days, it seems appropriate to review the very fascinating work of Arnuad Mares of Morgan Stanley in London. He poses the very provocative question: “Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, but How?” and comes up with some very interesting statistics. He suggests that simply looking at debt to GDP misses the point and offers four other ways we should also evaluate sovereign debt risk. This is a very worthy contribution to Outside the Box.

    The question I get over and over as I travel and present my thoughts is “When is the US going to get real about its fiscal deficits?” There is little sympathy for the massive deficits we are running. We are making Europe, or at least the part of Europe I am visiting, very nervous. Let us hope after the next elections we can say we are getting a handle on the deficits, and from both sides of the aisle and not just the Republicans. This is going to require cooperation.

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