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  • Poverty Matters for Capitalists

    Every US recession that I can recall was preceded by a fall in long rates, and I doubt the next will be much different. As such, do not expect the next US downturn to arise from the Federal Reserve pushing rates higher, an overvalued dollar or even mal-investments. Expect it to result from a decline in the income of the working poor. Early warning signs are likely to show up in the shopping aisles of stores such as Walmart, average driving miles, and the price of houses at the cheaper end of the market. I suspect the lesson that will eventually be learnt is that in a modern industrialized economy there are few worse things a central bank can do than deliberately attack the spending power of the poor.

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  • A Random Walk Through My Inbox

    Even while here in Tuscany I go on reading my email, albeit at a pace that is somewhat less maniacal than usual. I can't help myself; I find it fascinating to "surf" my emails and other sources. I get several hundred emails a day and about 40-50 that get more than a cursory notice. (I always try to read emails sent to me personally!) Today, for your Outside the Box, I am going to do something rather different. Rather than posting one or two essays, I am going to cut and paste snippets that I have found interesting in the past 24 hours.

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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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  • 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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  • Hoisington Fourth-Quarter Report

    Long-time readers of Outside the Box are familiar with the names Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington. They are a regular feature here, as quite frankly, anything that Lacy writes or says I pay serious attention to. This is their regular quarterly report, where they outline seven things that are likely to retard US growth. An easy read, but take the time to think this through.

    Hoisington Investment Management Company (www.hoisingtonmgt.com) is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed-income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the firm has over $4 billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies.

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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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  • Market Still Deluding Itself That It Can Escape The Inevitable Dénouement

    One of my favorite analysts is Albert Edwards of Societe Generale in London. Acerbic, witty and brilliant. Emphasis on brilliant. The fact that he is a Doppelganger for James Montier (who long time readers are well acquainted with) is a coincidence (or he would say vice versa). I only kind of have permission to forward this note to you, but better to ask forgiveness… So, this week he is our Outside the Box. And a short but good one he is.

    I am in Amsterdam and it is late, but deadlines have no time line. Tomorrow more work on the book. It is getting close to the end. Most books are finished when the authors quit in disgust. How many edits can you do? I am close.

    I wonder late at night, with maybe a few too many glasses of wine, why I feel like a book is so much more than an e-letter. Really? The last ten years of what I have written are on the archives. Good (ok, sometimes really good) is there. But some are an embarrassment. What was I thinking?

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  • Recession Continues to Batter State Budgets; State Responses Could Slow Recovery

    There were a lot of questions last week when I wrote about public pensions. So for this week’s Outside the Box, I offer you some more information about how bad the state deficit situation is, and for your specific state. States are having to cut more than 1% of national GDP in fiscal 2011, as federal stimulus money is slowly drying up. And that is just states. Local municipalities and schools have a similar problem. And then add on the possibility of the Bush tax cuts going away and that is a very serious situation. It is why I am so concerned and vocal about the need for the Bush tax cuts to be extended for at least one year until the economy is growing above stall speed. The headwinds from cities and states are severe, as you can see.

    Basically, the states were profligate going into the downturn, and they have enormous costs going forward, so even for 2011 and 2012 they are going to have massive budget deficits. Some, like Illinois and Nevada have shortfalls of 40-50%. That is simply not sustainable.

    The research is from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711 . for those in the US, I think you will find it interesting to see how your state is doing. For those outside, look and see how much the problem is in terms of GDP and realize what impact that is going to have on the overall US economy.

    I am at the airport in Omaha with Trey on a trip looking at schools, and on to Illinois tonight. It is a lot cooler here than in Dallas, at least.

    Your data watching analyst,

    John Mauldin, Editor Outside the Box

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  • Recession, Deflation and Deficits

    I look forward at the beginning of every quarter to receiving the Quarterly Outlook from Hoisington Investment Management. They have been prominent proponents of the view that deflation is the problem, stemming from a variety of factors, and write about their views in a very clear and concise manner. This quarter's letter is no exception, where they once again delve into the history books to bring up fresh and relevant lessons for today. This is a must read piece.

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  • The Global Crisis of Legitimacy

    From my friend George Friedman, founder & CEO of STRATFOR, here's my newest favorite quote concerning economic recessions: 'Like forest fires, they are painful when they occur, yet without them, the forest could not survive. They impose discipline, punishing the reckless, rewarding the cautious.' The thin line of where risky becomes reckless is something I'd like to focus us on today. No matter the risk-level of your portfolio, if you are reading this you are probably smart enough to know that when you play with fire you may get burned. You have to know how to look for smoke, or signs of a potential catastrophe, so you know not to grab the doorknob with both hands.

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  • Is the Recession Over?

    There is some debate about whether the recession is over. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a non-governmental organization made up of economists, has a committee that meets and decides after the fact when recessions begin and when they end. Martin Feldstein, the former president of the NBER, focusing on the job market, said last November that 'the current downturn is likely to last much longer than previous downturns ... We will be lucky to see the recession end in 2009.'

    I have called this recovery a Statistical Recovery, in that some of the normal metrics are only getting better in comparison to very bad numbers a year ago. It is likely that we will still have not recovered to the level of economic activity we enjoyed at the peak of the last cycle over two years ago on a nominal basis. This is highly unusual and lengthy for a recession.

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  • 2010 Investment Strategies: Six Areas To Buy, 11 Areas To Sell

    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 track record in this decade has been quite good. I want to thank Gary and his associate Fred Rossi for allowing us to view this smaller version of his latest letter....
  • Reckless Myopia

    Long time Outside of the Box readers are familiar with John Hussman of the eponymous Hussman Funds. And once again he is my selection for this week's OTB.

    This week he touches on several topics, all of which I find interesting. As he notes:

    'We face two possible states of the world. One is a world in which our economic problems are largely solved, profits are on the mend, and things will soon be back to normal, except for a lot of unemployed people whose fate is, let's face it, of no concern to Wall Street. The other is a world that has enjoyed a brief intermission prior to a terrific second act in which an even larger share of credit losses will be taken, and in which the range of policy choices will be more restricted because we've already issued more government liabilities than a banana republic, and will steeply debase our currency if we do it again. It is not at all clear that the recent data have removed any uncertainty as to which world we are in.'...
  • Quarterly Review and Outlook - Third Quarter 2009

    I look forward at the beginning of every quarter to receiving the Quarterly Outlook from Hoisington Investment Management. They have been prominent proponents of the view that deflation is the problem, stemming from a variety of factors, and write about their views in a very clear and concise manner. This quarter's letter is no exception, where they once again delve into the history books to bring up fresh and relevant lessons for today. This is a must read piece.

    Hoisington Investment Management Company (www.hoisingtonmgt.com) is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the firm has over $4-billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies. And now let's jump right in to the essay....