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  • Can Central Planners Revive China’s Economic Miracle?

    For years, when asked whether I thought China would experience a hard landing, I would simply answer, “I don't understand China. Making a prediction would be pretending that I did, so I can’t.” The problem is that today China is the most significant macroeconomic wildcard in the global economy. To understand both the risks and the potentials for the future you have to reach some understanding of what is happening in China today. Last week we started a two-part series on what my young associate Worth Wray and I feel is the significant systemic risk that China poses to global growth.

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  • Looking at the Middle Kingdom with Fresh Eyes

    One of the few consensus ideas that I took away from the Strategic Investment Conference is that China has the potential to become a real problem. It seemed to me that almost everyone who addressed the topic was either seriously alarmed at the extent of China’s troubles or merely very worried. Perhaps it was the particular group of speakers we had, but no one was sanguine. If you recall, a few weeks back I introduced my young colleague and protégé Worth Wray to you; and his inaugural Thoughts from the Frontline focused on China, a topic on which he is well-versed, having lived and studied there. Our conversations often center on China and emerging markets (and we tend to talk and write to each other a lot). While I’m on the road, Worth is once again visiting China in this week’s letter, summing up our research and contributing his own unique style and passion. I think regular TFTF readers are going to enjoy Worth’s occasional missives and will want to see more of them over time. Now, let’s turn it over to my able young Cajun friend.

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  • The Lions in the Grass, Revisited

    I’ve come to South Africa a little bit ahead of my speaking tour next week to spend a few days “on safari.” Which is another way to say that I am comfortably ensconced in a game lodge next to Kruger Park, relaxing and trying to get some time to think. We’ve been reasonably lucky on the game runs: besides the usual lions, rhinoceri, water buffalo, etc., we’ve seen both cheetah and leopard, two animals that avoided my vicinity on every other trip to Africa. I’m here at the end of the rainy season, so everything is lush and green, and you have to get a little lucky to find the animals in the dense bush.

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  • China’s Minsky Moment?

    In speeches and presentations since the end of last year, I have been saying that I think the biggest macro problem in the world today is China. China has run up a huge debt, and the payments are coming due. They seem to be proactive, but will it be enough? How much risk do they pose for the global system?

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  • The Renminbi: Soon to Be a Reserve Currency?

    I get the question all the time: when will the Chinese renminbi (RMB) replace the US dollar as the major world reserve currency? The assumption behind such questions is almost always that the coming crisis in US entitlement programs will force the Fed to monetize even more debt, thereby killing the dollar. Or some derivative line of that thought. Contrary to the thinking of fretful dollar skeptics, my firm belief is that the US dollar is going to become even stronger and will at some point actually deserve to be the reserve currency of choice rather than merely the prettiest girl in the ugly contest – the last currency standing, so to speak.

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  • The Healthcare Blues

    It has been some time since we peeked into my worry closet. A few questions this weekend prompted me to think about things I am paying attention to but have not written about, and one thing that I am not worried about at all, despite the apparent media hysteria.

    But first, a quick note. My tenth annual Strategic Investment Conference (May 1-3 in Carlsbad, California) seems to be filling up nicely. The speaker lineup is exceptional: Kyle Bass; Ian Bremmer; Mohamed El-Erian; Niall Ferguson and his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Lacy Hunt; Charles and Louis Gave; Jeff Gundlach; Anatole Kaletsky; David Rosenberg; Nouriel Roubini; and Gary Shilling.

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  • Changing the Rules in the Middle of the Game

    Angela Merkel is leading the call for a rule change, a rewiring of the basic treaty that binds the EU. But is it both too much and too late? The market action suggests that time is indeed running out, and so we’ll look at the likely consequences. Then I glance over the other way and take notice of news out of China that may be of import. Plus a few links for your weekend listening“pleasure.” There is lots to cover, so let’s get started.

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  • Thinking the Unthinkable

    Last week, in the first part of my annual forecast, I suggested that 2011 would be better than Muddle Through, with GDP growth in the US north of 2.5%. World GDP growth should be even better. This week we look at what I see as the real downside risks to that prediction. Oddly enough, the risks are not in the US but on the other side of both our oceans, in Europe and China. Plus, we will visit a few other items, assuming we have space (Bernanke’s recent speech just screams for some comments).

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  • First, Let's Lower the Bar

    China's currency is rising ever so slowly against the dollar. But is that hurting China? We will look at a very interesting chart and some research. And then we'll gain some more insight into why the employment numbers seemed to surprise. I guess if you lower the bar, it's easier to jump over. I also deal with the pushback from last week's Outside the Box! And Ireland is on my radar. There is a lot to cover, so let's jump in.

    I start this week's letter on a flight from Cleveland (where I was at the Cleveland Clinic meeting with my good friend and doctor Mike Roizen (of Oprah and the various 'YOU' books with Mehmet Oz) on some non-health-related business, and we talked last night about the state of health care. Mike keeps pointing out that much of our health-care cost comes from chronic diseases that are either directly or partially lifestyle choices. And he is right. The data shows it. Smoking, overeating, lack of exercise - all contribute to our health-care bills. And health care was on my mind.

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  • The Morality of Chinese Growth

    This week I am at a conference in Houston. I must confess that I don't attend many of the sessions at most conferences where I speak. But today, the guys at Streettalk Advisors have such a great lineup that I am there for every session. But it's Friday and I need to write. The solution? This week you get a 'best of' letter. The best ideas I've heard and the best charts I've seen at this conference. Then we close with two short but very thoughtful essays from Charles Gave and Arthur Kroeber of GaveKal on 'The Morality of Chinese Growth.' Lots of charts and something to make you think. Should be a good letter.

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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 Threat to Muddle Through

    If the Chinese allowed the renminbi to rise, would that make the USA better off? That is the contention of a cabal of critics from Senators to Nobel laureates. Paul Krugman wants to see a 25% tariff on Chinese goods. Today we examine that idea, and look at the real problems that we face. If only it were so easy. The numbers just don't add up. The fault, dear Brutus...

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  • The Statistical Recovery

    A lot of bullish commentators are talking about a recovery being in the works, and they may very well be right. But it is not going to look like any recovery worthy of the name. This week we look at what I will call The Statistical Recovery. But first, we take a look at what China is doing, as we continue our look at the rest of the world and ponder if it is time to brace ourselves for an extended bout of the Muddle Through Economy*. (And yes, there is an asterisk.)

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  • The Trend May Not Be Your Friend

    Two weeks ago I presented my thoughts on the current economic situation at my 6th Annual Strategic Investment Conference in La Jolla (co-hosted with Altegris Investments). The speech was well-received, at least to judge from the comment forms. So this week and next, we are going to revisit that talk (with a few edits). Let's start with a little set-up to explain the first few paragraphs.

    My speech was Saturday morning. On Friday, I wore a nice grey suit with a Leonardo tie. For those who know about Leonardo's, they are 'statement' ties. I should note that Tiffani picked the tie out for me about ten years ago and persuaded me to wear it. It took some getting used to. It is 16 silk-screened colors, bright blues and pinks and grays, the central feature of which is a very vivid parrot. It is not subdued.

    When my good friend George Friedman of Stratfor gave his speech on Friday, he commented rather derisively about my taste in ties, which got him a few laughs. This did not bother me too much since, while George is a brilliant geopolitical analyst, his sense of sartorial style is not exactly top-drawer. So now, let's jump into the speech....
  • The Swiss Start Their Engines

    This week we look at the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan is going through major upheavals, and they will have consequences all over the world. And what are those wild and crazy Swiss central bankers up to? It's time for another round of competitive devaluation. And of course I have to look at the recent Barron's cover story, about how stocks are cheap. There's a lot to cover. But first, and quickly, I just wanted to take a moment and remind you to sign up for the Richard Russell Tribute Dinner, all set for Saturday, April 4 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego - if you haven't already. This is sure to be an extraordinary evening honoring a great friend and associate of mine, and yours as well. I do hope that you can join us for a night of memories, laughs, and good fun with fellow admirers and long-time readers of Richard's Dow Theory Letter. The room is filling up and there will be a very large crowd....