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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Growth in Potential GDP

    This week I offer you two short pieces for your Outside the Box Reading Pleasure. The first is from my friends at GaveKal and is part of their daily letter. They address the real difference between those who think we will have a consumer led recovery (Keynesian) and those who think we will have a corporate profit led recovery (classical economics or Schumpeterian). This is actually a very important debate and distinction. I find that GaveKal pushes me to think almost more than any other group, as they constantly challenge my assumptions. (www.gavekal.com)

    The second piece comes from Dr. John Hussman of Hussman Funds (www.hussmanfunds.com). He offers us some very insightful analysis on the potential for growth going forward, which goes along with what I have been writing: We are in for a longer period of below trend growth, which does not bode well for corporate profits in the long run. I think you will get a lot out of these two items.

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  • Fear for a Lost Decade

    Before we get into this week's Outside the Box, let me give you a few pieces of data that came across my desk this morning, which will help set the stage for the OTB offering.

    Fitch (the ratings agency), in a downgrade of yet another 543 mortgage-backed securities of 2005-07 vintage, gives us the following side notes: 'The home price declines to date have resulted in negative equity for approximately 50% of the remaining performing borrowers in the 2005-2007 vintages. In addition to continued home price deterioration, unemployment has risen significantly since the third quarter of last year, particularly in California where the unemployment rate has jumped from 7.8% to 11%... The projected losses also reflect an assumption that from the first quarter of 2009, home prices will fall an additional 12.5% nationally and 36% in California, with home prices not exhibiting stability until the second half of 2010. To date, national home prices have declined by 27%. Fitch Rating's revised peak-to-trough expectation is for prices to decline by 36% from the peak price achieved in mid-2006. The additional 9% decline represents a 12.5% decline from today's levels.'...
  • The Geography of Recession

    One of the first things you learn about analyzing a company is how to dissect a balance sheet. What assets and liabilities can be deployed by a company to create equity over time? I've enclosed a fascinating variant on this process. Take a look at how STRATFOR has analyzed the "geographic balance sheets" of the US, Russia, China, and Europe to understand why different countries' economies have suffered to varying degrees from the current economic crisis.

    As investors, it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that can provide us profitable opportunities, and it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that makes STRATFOR such an important part of my investment decision making. The key to investment profits is thinking differently and thinking earlier than the next guy. STRATFOR's work exemplifies both these traits....
  • Second Quarter Forecast 2009: Global Trends

    I've been in this business a long time. Some days it feels like a very long time. But never in all the years that I've been in the financial markets have I felt like business per se has less impact on my investment decisions. Let me explain.

    GM shares have gone from being a claim on earnings from car sales to being a call option on whether the US government will extend another lifeline. Banks' capital structures have gone from being the province of Boards of Directors and CFOs to the "expertise" of Congressional committees and appointed regulators. Used to be when I thought about Financial Centers New York and London came to mind. Instead now I have to think about Washington and Brussels.

    My friend George Friedman and his team at STRATFOR are where I turn when I need help thinking about these new realities. George's team provides me context and understanding of the environment in which financial developments are going to take place. I may tweak him about his ties, but if you saw George speak at my conference in La Jolla, you know that he's an absolutely compelling speaker. And it's small wonder that his latest book spent those weeks on the New York Times bestseller list too.

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  • Thoughts on the Market Rebound

    This week we will look at two shorter essays for this edition of Outside the Box. The first is some thoughtful words by Tom Au on whether or not we have put in a true bottom for the market. I particularly want you to read his thoughts on what earnings will look like going forward, and whether we can get back to the highs in corporate earnings we saw in 2006.

    Tom is the executive vice-president of R. W. Wentworth, a contributor to Real Money at TheStreet.com and the author of 'A Modern Approach to Graham and Dodd Investing'

    In last Friday's letter I mentioned an article by William Hester, CFA, who is the Senior Financial Analyst at the Hussman Funds. While I quoted a few paragraphs from his essay, on reflection I think I will re-produce it below, as this is a very important concept. I have written in past letters and in Bull's Eye Investing about how powerful a driver earnings surprises can be (both positive and negative). Powerful bear and bull markets develop when there are numerous surprises in the same direction, re-enforcing market psychology.

    So, read Hester's essay with the knowledge of what Au writes about earnings. I think the two make a very powerful, thought-provoking concept. And I am off to Europe....
  • Where Will the Growth Come From?

    Today we read a piece sent to me by my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal (and who will be at my conference in April). It is entitled "Where Will the Growth Come From?" It reminds us of the lessons that Harry gave me. Each person and company is responsible for their own part of the recovery. You can't rely on mass statistics, or you miss the important lesson in individual responsibility. I don't think anyone can accuse me of being bullish the past few years. Interestingly, I get a lot of emails from people telling me the end of the world is coming, and deriding my longer-term optimism. They are convinced we are going into some deep national morass worse than the Great Depression (and such deflationary times will somehow make their gold go to $3,000!?!?). Yet they are working to make sure their own personal worlds are covered. I get no letters from people who are simply giving up. What company will keep a CEO who does not work hard to figure out how to keep the company alive? If you lose your job, do you not try and get another one or figure out how to make ends meet? Do you not put in extra hours to try and make your personal life or business or job better? Even if it is terribly difficult, the very large majority of people don't throw in the towel. Each of us, in our own way, gets up every morning to fight the good fight, even when the swamp is full of more alligators than we ever counted on. We just pick up a baseball bat, wade into the swamp, kill as many alligators as we can in one day, and then go home to get ready to fight the next day....
  • Semi-Annual U.S. Economic Outlook: Collapsing On Schedule

    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. You can learn more about his letter at http://www.agaryshilling.com. If you want to subscribe, you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get not only his 2009 forecast issue but an extra issue with his 2010 forecast (of course, that one will not come out for a year. Gary is good but not that good!) I trust you are enjoying the holidays. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box....
  • The Six Lessons from Last Week's Action

    This week we look at a short but excellent summary of the state of the current economic crisis. I always enjoy reading David Rosenberg, the North American economist of Merrill Lynch. He has a no-nonsense style that is refreshing from most mainstream economists. The reality is that things continue to deteriorate. Today's stock market action shows that we are not of the bear market woods just yet. Rosenberg gives us a few reasons why....
  • On G-20 and GM: Economics, Politics and Social Stability

    The Big Three have a new customer, and it isn't you. As Detroit's former heavyweights fight for a slice of a $25 billion bailout package, more than humble pie is being eaten. If the automakers fail and take their companies into bankruptcy, Michigan as we know it ceases to exist economically. The trickle-down impact could rapidly become a waterfall: the seat supplier in Georgia loses three major customers. The factory worker who makes seats is out of a job. The bank who holds his mortgage takes another hickey. Commercial lending at that bank dries up. Ad nauseum. In the best of economic times, this would be a troublesome scenario. In today's economy, it's easy to see how policymakers are as worried about social stability as they are economics. No astute person thinks that the Big Three will be able to return to the business practices of last year. And no intelligent investor should be trying to evaluate portfolio decisions the same way this year either. We have moved from the realm of finance to political economy, and for that you need a different set of tools and a different mindset....
  • When the Chickens Come Home to Roost

    Can the credit crisis get any worse? In this week's Outside the Box my London partner Niels Jensen shows that it indeed can. Banks, and mainly European banks, have large exposure to emerging market debt of all types through both sovereign, corporate and individual loans. Just as banks have had to write down large losses from the subprime crisis and other related problems, next will come a wave of potential losses from yet another source. Niels then goes on to give us a look the size and problems with hedge fund deleveraging. Altogether, this is a very interesting letter and one that is written from a non-US point of view that I think you will find instructive....
  • The International Economic Crisis and Stratfor's Methodology

    Exhale for a moment, forget your losses for the time being, and try to appreciate the fact that you're living through the single most important development in global finance since Bretton Woods. This is a "tell the grandkids about it" moment, when governments all around the world have essentially decided in unison that it's time to rewrite the rules, the very framework, in which financial transactions take place. Stock trading, interbank lending, commercial paper, the very concept of private sector ownership are all up in the air right now. The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that if you try to evaluate your investments using the same metrics you've always relied on - P/E ratios, market share, interest rates, etc. - you're going to be as successful as a football-turned-baseball coach evaluating a pitcher by the number of touchdowns he throws. The rules are changing, gentle reader, changing at least for awhile from market-driven inputs to government-driven inputs. If you try to apply what you know from the "old game" without understanding that you're playing a "new game," the rules might not make sense. I'm sending you today a piece from my friend George Friedman on how his company Stratfor looks at economics. More precisely, this piece explains how they look at Political Economy. And from here on out, it's political economy that's going to be driving markets. If the old rule was "Never fight the Fed." It's now, "Never fight the Fed. And the Treasury. And the ECB. And the Bank of England. And the Bank of Japan...." You get my point....
  • Why The Worst Will Soon Be Over

    The credit crisis is global. Interestingly, some of the more creative and straight forward solutions are coming from England. This week in Outside the Box I am presenting you with a very well written (even entertaining) letter from Bedlam Asset Management from London www.bedlamplc.com on their view of the crisis. It is always instructive to look at your problems from the point of view of another party, and even more some when they give you some thoughtful and cogent analysis. I have to admit, seeing green on my screen feels good, but we are in a recession that is global and is likely to get worse. What we need to do now is assess what our response will be. First, we need to avoid the pitfalls and then look around for the opportunities which will be presented us. I think this week's Outside the Box will help you think through your personal situation....
  • The Elusive Bottom

    In this weekend's Thoughts from the Frontlines, I quoted from part of a very thoughtful, right-on-target analysis by David A. Rosenberg entitled "The Elusive Bottom." Over the weekend, I decided that you should read the whole piece, as Rosenberg makes some very solid points about how the markets and the economy may play out over the next few years. He has a non-consensus viewpoint, but that is what I like for Outside the Box. In fact, I think this is one of the more thought-provoking pieces I have used in OTB for some time. Rosenberg is the North American Economist for Merrill Lynch. They were gracious to give me permission to send this letter out on such a short notice, and I believe you will well served to take the time to think through his analysis. And rather than try and give you a quick summary, let's just jump right in....
  • 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...