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  • A Decade of Volatility: Demographics, Debt, and Deflation

    Harry Dent gave a speech I listened to a while back, and I got him to transcribe it for this week's Outside the Box. One thing about Harry is, you are never left wondering what he thinks about a topic. He sees inevitable demography-caused deflation in our future and makes some very intriguing arguments that deserve pondering.

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  • An Insider's View of the Real Estate Train Wreck

    I have been writing for a very long time about the coming debacle that the commercial real estate problem is going to be. This week's Outside the Box is an interview that my good friend David Galland did with Andy Miller, a man on the inside of the coming commercial real estate crisis. I thought it was very revealing, as there are so many nuances to the problem. For instance, in some cases, if you default and walk away from the loan you may trigger huge taxes as the loan loss to the bank is now considered income to you. Ouch! So many strings to unravel as you figure this one out.

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  • 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....
  • The Thinking Behind the Stimulus and Bailout Programs

    It is important to understand the thinking of those who are in fact making the decisions at the Fed and Treasury. In today's Outside the Box, Paul McCulley, Managing Director at PIMCO, gives us some insight into the thinking that is driving the massive stimulus and bailout programs. Whether or not you agree, it is important to have a handle on what is actually happening and the thinking behind it.

    As a bonus, let me give you a link to David Kotok's excellent and very clear analysis of the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP). The PIPP is basically a call option financed by the US tax-payer. David shows us why as tax-payers we should be concerned....
  • Saving Capitalist Banking and a Speech by Paul Volker

    This week I came across two items that I think are worthy of being in Outside the Box, so I am going to give you both. The first is an essay by good friend Paul McCulley, Managing Director of PIMCO, called 'Saving Capitalist Banking from Itself.' The second is a recent speech by Paul Volker, former Fed Chairman and a (hopefully very) influential member of President Obama's economic advisory team. This speech is a must read. Taken together they provide a cautionary tale of what the world of banking will need to look like when we get to the end of the process. This OTB is a little longer than most, but I think it is important reading. If you don't know where we are headed, it is hard to imagine the journey....
  • The Great Experiment

    There is a reason I call this column Outside the Box. I try to get material that forces us to think outside our normal comfort zones and challenges our common assumptions. And this week's letter from Hoisington Investment Management Company does just that. Let me give you two quotes to pique your interest: 'Monetary policy works by creating the environment for a renewed borrowing and lending cycle. This cycle would require that the debt to GDP ratio, which is already at a record level, grow even higher. Would such an outcome really be that desirable when the controlling problem of the U.S. economy is too much improperly financed debt? If the Fed were able to engender an increase in the debt to GDP ratio, this might merely serve to postpone the reckoning of the current debt levels while laying the foundation for an even more vicious unwinding down the road.' And: 'The only really viable option for federal stimulus is a permanent reduction in the marginal tax rates, as highlighted in the research of Christina Romer, incoming Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. This would have the benefit of raising after tax rates of return, but the drawback in the short run of still having to be financed by an increased budget deficit. Over time, a massive reduction in marginal tax rates would be beneficial, but the operative word is time. Refunds, or transitory tax relief, will have no better results in stemming the recessionary tide in 2009 and 2010 than it did in the spring of 2008.' Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar on the current bailout programs that is not the usual analysis we see in mainstream media. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort....
  • Setting the Bull Trap

    Yesterday I sent you an Outside the Box from Paul McCulley who supports the government and Fed activity (in general) in the current economic crisis. Today we look at an opposing view from Bennet Sedacca of Atlantic Advisors. He asks some very interesting questions like: Shouldn't the consumer, after decades of over-consumption, be allowed to digest the over-indebtedness and save, rather than be encouraged to take risk? Shouldn't companies, no matter what of view, if run poorly, be allowed to fail or forced to restructure? Should taxpayer money be used to make up for the mishaps at financial institutions or should we allow them to wallow in their own mistakes? I think you will find this a very thought-provoking Outside the Box....
  • All In

    There is an ongoing debate on the current nature of the economic environment and what should the response be by government. Today's Outside the Box by Paul McCulley takes up one view, arguing that we need a federal response and stimulus package to protect the overall economy and save capitalism from itself. Tomorrow, I am going to send yet another view arguing that by doing so we are hurting the prudent investor and businesses that did not over-leverage and behaved responsibly. Both are important to understand. And as I will argue on Friday in my 2009 Forecast Issue, both are right. And that is one of the great economic paradoxes that we are faced with today. Navigating through this period is particularly challenging, but I think it is critical that you understand what Paul says today and what Bennet Sedacca will say tomorrow. Understanding what is going to happen, whether or not we agree with the philosophy behind it should be our goal, as it will make us better able to respond with our own portfolio and business decisions....
  • 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....
  • 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....
  • Where is My Swap Line?

    The G-7 countries now have what amounts to access to the US Fed's window for dollars for their banks. But what of the rest of the world? Brad Setser, an analyst who writes a blog for the Council on Foreign Relations, ask some very interesting questions and points out some big holes in the world economic landscape. If you can't get dollars what does that do to your currency? This contributes to the rise in the dollar against some emerging market currencies. Setser asks: 'Where is my swap line? And will the diffusion of financial power Balkanize the global response to a broadening crisis?' You can read some of his other material at http://blogs.cfr.org/setser/. Setser is an applied international economist with experience at the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund. Currently examining central bank reserve growth, sovereign wealth funds, and the political implications of emerging market financing of the United States. Author of the recent Council Special Report, Sovereign Wealth and Sovereign Power....
  • Survival of the Unfittest

    It is indeed a very interesting time in which to live, especially watching the financial markets. The disconnect among authorities, regulators, companies and investors is almost too much to comprehend. There are no precedents for the turmoil we are in. This week we read an essay by a name familiar to readers of Outside Box, Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management (www.hegcap.com). As usual he offers us some very cogent comments on the continuing efforts by those in authority to bail out the system, along with insights on the deal by Merrill and the woes at GM. It is a very interesting letter, so I will stand aside and let Michael jump in....
  • The End of the Inflation Scare?

    I mentioned in last Saturday's letter a report by Louis Gave of GaveKal fame on whether inflation may be waning and its importance. Louis gave me permission to use it as this week's Outside the Box. It is typical of the thoughtful analytical work they do. Louis and his partners and associates at GaveKal write some of the more thought-provoking material I read. They really challenge my position on numerous matters, causing me to look at many items from a different view. That of course, makes this particular piece good for Outside the Box. Whether you agree or disagree, you need to know why you hold a position. If you can't articulate the "against," how can you be sure you truly understand the "for"? I think given the current debate on inflation, this week's Outside the Box is a must read....
  • 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....