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  • The Problem with Pensions

    Sadly, I find myself with more than enough time to compose yet another Thoughts from the Frontline in an airport, as a flight booking error has me at JFK for six hours instead of fishing in Maine. Details for those interested or amused at the end. But it does allow me to offer you a peek into a very sobering report on how badly underfunded public pension are. The situation is worse than you think. Then we will close with a eye-opening report on China from the gracious Simon Hunt, who is allowing me to reprint his latest missive in toto. You really want to read this one. And we start with this rumor from Reuters, just in. Read this and weep.

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  • The Law of Unintended Consequences

    Rules have consequences. And sometimes they have unintended consequences. If I told you that the US government was going to give multiple tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to hedge funds and private investors, you would justifiably not be happy. I think the word angry would come to mind. But that is exactly what is happening, as a result of rules that were written for a time and place seemingly long ago and far, far away. Further, we are looking at potentially much larger sums being lost in the bank bailout (can we say hundreds of billions?), a reduced lending capacity at banks and, in general, a worsening of the very problems at the core of the crisis. The good news is that it can be fixed, but the authorities need to get a sense of urgency. As Steve Forbes writes today in the Wall Street Journal, Obama is continuing with the worst of Bush's policies, making the crisis far worse than it should be. It is as if we are giving all 13-year-old kids a 'F' in math because one kid failed....
  • Here Comes Tarp 3 and 4

    What does it mean for Citigroup to be at $3? As it turns out, it distorts the information we think we are getting from the Dow Jones Industrial Index. And more TARP money is surely in our future, and far more than anyone in authority is now suggesting. This week's letter will cover both topics and a little more. I think you will find it interesting. Before we get into the letter, just two quick housekeeping items. First, I spend most of my week researching and writing. Part of that process is the ability to call friends and esteemed colleagues to discuss our different points of view about the present markets and economy. I have offered, for the first time, exclusive access for my readers to listen in on those conversations. The first "Conversation" will be with Dr. Lacy Hunt and Ed Easterling next Tuesday, and we will have it ready for subscribers to my new service shortly thereafter. This new subscription service will allow you to listen in on Conversations with me and my friends about the most critical financial and economic topics of the day....
  • Forecast 2009: Deflation and Recession

    Where are we headed in 2009? We will explore that in detail over the next few issues of Thoughts from the Frontline, but today we will start with some of the larger forces which will have a major impact on the economies of the world, and I will end with my usual attempt to forecast the various markets. We will look at deflation, deleveraging, the fallout from the stimulus plans (note plural), housing, consumer spending, unemployment, and a lot more. There is a lot to cover. But first two quick announcements....
  • 2008: Annus Horribilis, RIP

    This week we look at a very interesting, if not altogether encouraging, piece of research on the length and severity of recessions that come during periods of financial crisis, which can apply to not just the US but all countries that are involved in the current crisis. But being forewarned is better than blindly stumbling through, so we will take some time to peruse it. Then we (briefly) look at the depth of the manufacturing numbers in the US, which leads us into the recent bout of earnings downgrades and some thoughts as to where that might suggest the market is going. That should be enough for this week....
  • The Financial Fire Trucks Are Gathering Again

    The economic news just continues to be bad. New unemployment claims were over 529,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The "real" number was 606,877 lost jobs. New home sales were off by another 5% and down 40% from a year ago, as builders slash inventories. The Chicago Purchasing Manager index came in at 33.8, the weakest number since the serious recession of 1982. The national number due next Monday will be just as ugly, as durable goods were down far more than expected, by a negative 6.2%. But it is Thanksgiving weekend, and not a time for gloom. In this week's letter I am going to talk about why we should be optimistic about the future. Things will turn around. I will also make a few comments about the latest stimulus package....
  • The Economy Gets a Margin Call

    As long-time readers know, my daughter Tiffani and I are interviewing millionaires for a book we will be writing called Eavesdropping on Millionaires. This has been one of the more personally impacting projects of my life, as the stories we hear are so very provocative. I hope we can transfer to readers of the book at least half of the impact we are personally experiencing. But at the end of each interview, we let the interviewee ask me questions. Often, they are along the line of 'Do you really think we will Muddle Through?' Sometimes they ask in need of assurance and sometimes they simply think that my stance is somewhat naïve. It is something of an irony that I am called a perma-bear in some circles and a Pollyanna in others. The Muddle Through middle has been lonely of late. So, this week I take another look at my Muddle Through stance. We look at some of the recent data on unemployment and retail sales, think about the implications of a falling trade deficit and a rising US government deficit, speculate about the potential for a serious stock market rally, and also comment on the potential for a GM bailout. There is a lot to cover, so let's jump right in. ...
  • Where Do We Go From Here?

    I have been writing for almost a year that the next shoe to drop on US banks would be commercial construction lending. Today we look at some hard numbers. We look across the pond to sort out the problems in Europe. We look at the consequences of the losses stemming from Lehman. Then we look at one of the more serious consequences of the banking crisis, one that will bring the crisis home to you. Finally, we look at what the various governments of the world must do in response. It may not be fun, but it should be interesting. And it is important. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone who asks why we not only need the bailout but will need even more coordinated government action....
  • The Curve in the Road

    The 'Bailout Plan' was passed. Will it work? The answer depends on what your definition of 'work' is. If by work you mean no more government intervention and no further costly programs and a functioning market, then the answer is no. But there are things it will do. This week I try to help you see what might lie ahead around the Curve in the Road. We look at how the rescue plan will function, see what is happening in the economy, and finally muse as to whether Muddle Through is really in our future. It will make for an interesting, if not very upbeat, letter, so strap in. I would like your promise to not shoot the messenger. I am just trying to give you some of my thoughts as to what may lie in our future. And remember, as you read this, we will get through it. There are better days a'coming....
  • Who's Afraid of a Big, Bad Bailout?

    Flying last Tuesday, overnight from Cape Town in South Africa to London, I read in the Financial Times that Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas was quoted as saying (this is from memory so it is not exact) that he had difficulty in voting for a bailout plan when none of his constituents could understand the need to bail out Wall Street, didn't understand the problem, and were against spending $750 billion of taxpayer money to solve a crisis for a bunch of (rich) people who took a lot of risk and created the crisis. That is a sentiment that many of the Republican members of the House share. As it happens, I know Joe. My office is in his congressional district. I sat on the Executive Committee for the Texas Republican party representing much of the same district for eight years. This week, Thoughts from the Frontline will be an open letter to Joe, and through him to Congress telling him what the real financial problem is, how it affects his district and help explains to his constituents the nature of the problem, and why he has to hold his nose with one hand and vote for it with the other. I think this is as good a way to explain the crisis we are facing this weekend. This letter will print out a little longer because there are a lot of charts, but the word length is about the same. Let's jump right in....