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  • Gary Shilling: Review and Forecast

    It's that time of year again, when we begin to think of what the next one will bring. I will be doing my annual forecast issue next week, but my friend Gary Shilling has already done his and has graciously allowed me to use a shortened version of his letter as this week's Thoughts from the Frontline. So without any further ado, let's jump right to Gary's look at where we are and where we're going.

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  • The Future of Public Debt

    In This Issue:

    The Future of Public Debt
    A Bit of Background
    Drastic Measures
    The Future Public Debt Trajectory
    Debt Projections
    Phoenix, Tokyo, and London

    This week I find myself in Bangkok, and I must admit to enjoying the experience a great deal, so much so that I am going to preview a portion of my coming book, Endgame, so that I can go back out and play tourist. Next week I get back to my more or less regular schedule, but I think you will enjoy this first portion of chapter six, where we look at an important paper from the Bank of International Settlements on 'The Future of Public Debt.' It is not a pretty one. We are watching one of the last great bubbles begin to deflate - the bubble of government and government debt - all over the developed world. This is a serious weight that will be a drag on our growth, and it is interesting to contemplate as I sit in Bangkok, a city that is vibrant and teeming with opportunity.

    Endgame will be in the bookstores in a few weeks, but let me once again ask you to not pre-order the book from Amazon or online. Pre-order books do not get into the book sales numbers (long story and more information than you want to know). I encourage you to pre-order from your local book store if you have one. Let me note that in the portion below, the pronoun we is used a lot. It is not the royal we - I do have a co-author, Jonathan Tepper, and this book has very much been a collaboration. More on some Thai thoughts at the end, but let's jump into today's Thoughts from the Frontline.

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  • A Bubble in Complacency

    In this issue:

    The Recent GDP Numbers -; A Real Statistical Recovery
    Consumer Spending Rose? Where Was the Income?
    A Bubble in Complacency
    Egypt
    Rosie, Las Vegas, Phuket, and Bangkok


    This week I had the privilege of being on the same panel with former Comptroller General David Walker and former Majority Leader (and presidential candidate) Richard Gephardt. A Democrat to the left of me and a self-declared nonpartisan to the right, stuck in the middle and not knowing where the unrehearsed conversation would take us. As it turned out, to a very interesting conclusion, which is the topic of this week's letter. By way of introduction to those not familiar with them, David M. Walker (born 1951) served as United States Comptroller General from 1998 to 2008, and is now the Founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative. Gephardt served in Congress for 28 years, was House Majority Leader from 1989 to 1995 and Minority Leader from 1995 to 2003, running for president in 1988 and 2004.

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  • The Chances of a Double Dip

    I am on a plane (yet again) from Zurich to Mallorca, where I will meet with my European and South American partners, have some fun, and relax before heading to Denmark and London. With the mad rush to finish my book (more on that later) and a hectic schedule this week, I have not had time to write a letter. But never fear, I leave you in the best of hands. Dr. Gary Shilling graciously agreed to condense his September letter, where he looks at the risk of another recession in the US.

    I look forward at the beginning of each month to getting Gary's latest letter. I often print it out and walk away from my desk to spend some quality time reading his thoughts. He is one of my "must-read" analysts. I always learn something quite useful and insightful. I am grateful that he has let me share this with you.

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  • The Best of Times

    What's a Fed to do? We get talk about tightening and taking away the easy credit, but we got the fourth largest monetization on record last week. This week we examine the elements of deflation, look at some banking statistics that are not optimistic, and then I write a reply to my great friend Bill Bonner about why it's the best of times to be young. I think you will get a few thought-provoking ideas here and there.

    But before we get to the main letter, I want to recommend a book to you. I am on a 17-day, 12-city speaking tour. It is rather brutal, but I did it to myself. However, one of the upsides of traveling is that I get quiet time on airplanes to read books. I am working my way through a very large stack of books on my desk. One that caught my eye - and I'm glad it did - is a book by Tom Hayes called Jump Point: How Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business. Hayes writes about how we are getting ready to experience a cultural change every bit as profound as the Industrial Revolution. He argues that as the 3 billionth person gets online sometime in 2011, it will shift the dynamic of how we interact as businesses and consumers. We get to 5 billion by 2015. The mind boggles.

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  • Sell in May and Go Away

    The old adage that one should 'sell in May and walk away' has been around for years. I mentioned that bromide about this time last year, urging readers to head for the sidelines if they had not already done so. I was also suggesting a strategic retreat in August of 2006 (after which the markets went up 20% before plummeting). In this week's letter we look at the actual data and offer up a fresh viewpoint. Then we turn our eyes to the recent GDP numbers, which were awful, though many took comfort in the apparent rise in consumer spending. Are Americans back to their old ways? It will make for an interesting letter....
  • Back to the Future Recession

    This week we look at the second half of my speech from a few weeks ago at my annual Strategic Investment Conference in La Jolla. If you have not read the first part, you can review it in the website. The first few paragraphs are a repeat from last week, to give us some context. Please note that this is somewhat edited from the original, and I have added a few ideas. You can also go there to sign up to get this letter sent to you free each week.

    MV=PQ

    Okay, when you become a central banker, you are taken into a back room and they do a DNA change on you. You are henceforth and forever genetically incapable of allowing deflation on your watch. It becomes the first and foremost thought on your mind: deflation, we can't have it....
  • Further Thoughts on the Continuing Crisis

    When confronted about an apparent change of his opinions, John Maynard Keynes is reported to have said, 'When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?' The earnings season for the 4th quarter is almost 80% complete, and the facts are dismal. It is worse than the current data shows, and could get uglier. Unemployment is increasing, and consumers are both saving more and spending less as incomes are not keeping pace with what little inflation there is. All in all, a very different set of facts than a few quarters ago. This week we examine some of the new facts, and start out by analyzing how Thoughts from the Frontline has done over the past two years with some of the more important predictions. It should make for an interesting letter....
  • 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....
  • 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. ...
  • The Problem With Deleveraging

    In general, we consider it a good thing to save money and to 'owe no man anything save love.' But what happens when a debt-happy society wakes up and decides that saving is a good thing for everybody? What happens when banks and hedge funds decide (or are forced) to reduce their debt? What happens when businesses of all sizes find it harder to get loans to operate? In this week's letter we discuss 'The Great Unwind,' that process of deleveraging that we are now in the midst of. We also explore some recent economic data on the economy. It's a lot of ground to cover, so let's jump right in....
  • How Shall We Then Invest?

    Warren Buffett says buy. Jeremy Grantham says it will get worse. Both are celebrated value investors. Who is right? It all depends upon your view of the third derivative of investing. Today we look at valuations in the stock market. This is the second part of a speech I have given in the past few weeks in California and Stockholm. I am updating the numbers, as the target keeps moving. While from one perspective things look rather difficult, from another there is a ray of hope. What can you expect to earn from stocks over the next five years? It should make for an interesting letter. Note: this will be a little longer than usual, but part of it is there are a LOT of charts. I should note that I am rewriting this on Monday. For the first time in over 8 years, I missed my Friday night deadline (see below). Last week's title for the letter was "The Economic Blue Screen of Death." By that I referred to the old "blue screen of death" that we used to get on early versions of Microsoft MS-DOS and Windows. You could be working away and suddenly, for no apparent reason, the computer would freeze up and you would get a blue screen. The only thing you could do was unplug the computer and hit the reset button - losing everything that was not saved when the computer crashed....
  • The Economic Blue Screen of Death

    This week I am in California giving two speeches to the Financial Planning Associations of San Diego and Orange County. This and next week's letters will be the broad outline of the speech. We will look at how the retreat of the American consumer will affect the stock market. Has the recent drop (can we say crash, gentle reader?) in stock market valuations given us an opportunity to find value? We look at some very powerful evidence that suggests that may be so. Then we look at the counter to that view. Are we at the bottom, or is there more pain? And given the current state of affairs, how should we then invest? Where do we put our money to work when the dust settles, as it surely will. As I noted above, this will be a two-part letter, finishing up next week. It will also print out a lot longer than normal as I have a lot of PowerPoint slides that are really important for you to see. A note to the 25% of my one million-plus readers who are outside the US: I am using illustrations from the US stock market to discuss timing and valuations, but the principles will translate to markets worldwide. In fact, considering that most stock markets worldwide are down even more than the US markets, they may be even more applicable. The time to become bullish on a lot of markets may be closer than we think. Let's jump right in....
  • The Rise of A New Asset Class

    This week I am in Maine on vacation with my son, and next week is my daughter Tiffani's wedding, so for the next two weeks I am going to send an updated version of a speech I have been giving the past few months on what I think is the likely potential for the rise of a brand new asset class. It is too long to be sent as one letter, so we will start with the first part today and finish with the second part next week. This first part can be read as a standalone letter. I think we're at a watershed moment, what Peter Bernstein defines as an "epochal event," with the very order of the investment world changing as it did in 1929, in '50, in 1981, where a number of things came together - it wasn't just one thing but a number of events happening that conspired to change the nature of what worked in the investment world for the next period of time. It took most people a decade after 1981-2 to recognize that we were in a different period, because we make our future expectations out of past experience. It's very hard for us to recognize a watershed moment in the process. We're going to look back in five or ten years and go, "Wow, things changed." As we will see, it's going to be a change that's going to cost people in their portfolios and in their retirement habits....
  • Muddle Through and Your Long Term Returns

    Muddle Through Gets A Boost Honey, I Vaporized My Customers Consumer Spending is Going, Going...South The Boomers Break the Deal Today we drop back to take a look at the economy and its long term effect on our portfolio returns. I am in Orlando this week...