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  • The Subprime Debacle: Act 2

    Quick last-minute note: I think this (and next week's) is/will be one of the more important letters I have written in the last ten years. Take the time to read, and if you agree send it on to friends and responsible parties.

    There's trouble, my friends, and it is does indeed involve pool(s), but not in the pool hall. The real monster is hidden in those pools of subprime debt that have not gone away. When I first began writing and speaking about the coming subprime disaster, it was in late 2007 and early 2008. The subject was being dismissed in most polite circles. 'The subprime problem,' testified Ben Bernanke, 'will be contained.'

    My early take? It would be a disaster for investors. I admit I did not see in January that it would bring down Lehman and trigger the worst banking crisis in 80 years, less than 18 months later. But it was clear that it would not be 'contained.' We had no idea.

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  • Pushing on a String

    This week the Fed altered their end-of-meeting statement by just a few words, but those words have a lot of meaning. It seems they are paving the way to a new round of quantitative easing (QE2), if in their opinion the situation warrants it. A trillion dollars of new money could soon be injected into the system. Tonight we explore some of the implications of a new round of QE. Let's put our speculation hats on, gentle reader, as we are moving into uncharted territory. There are no maps, just theories, and they don't all agree. (Note: this letter may print a little long, as there are a lot of charts.)

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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 Last Half

    There are a number of economic forces in play in today's world, not all of them working in the same direction, which makes choosing policies particularly difficult. Today we finish what we started last week, the last half of the last chapter I have to write to get a rough draft of my forthcoming book, The End Game. (Right now, though, it appears this will actually be the third chapter.) We will start with a few paragraphs to help you remember where we were (or you can go to www.investorsinsight.com to read the first part of the chapter).

    But first, I recorded two Conversations yesterday, with the CEOs of two biotech firms that are working on some of the most exciting new technologies I have come across. I found them very informative, and we will post them as soon as we get them transcribed.

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  • The Debt Supercycle

    I have been writing about The End Game for some time now. And writing a book of the same title. Consequently, I have been thinking a lot about how the credit crisis evolved into the sovereign debt crisis, and how it all ends. Today we explore a few musings I have had of late, while we look at some very interesting research. What will a world look like as a variety of nations have to deal with the end of their Debt Supercycle. We'll jump right in with no 'but first's' this week.

    Part of this week's writing is colored by my next conference. Next week I go to Vancouver to speak at the Agora Investment Symposium. I have a number of very good friends who will be there, both speaking and attending. This is generally a 'hard money,' gold-bug-type crowd (and a very large conference). Some (but not all) of the speakers believe that all fiat currencies, including the US dollar, will default in one way or another, either outright or through inflation, as mounting debts and out-of-control entitlement obligations force large-scale monetization, leading to high inflation if not hyperinflation.

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  • There’s a Slow Train coming

    The question before the jury is a simple one, but the answer is complex. Is the US in a 'V' shaped recovery? Are we returning to the old normal? A great deal hinges on the answer, and this week we look at some of the evidence before us.

    But first, a follow-up thought to last week's letter. I wrote about why countries can reduce their private debt, reduce their public debt or run a trade deficit, but not all three at the same time. If a country wants to see its government run a fiscal surplus (or small deficit) and at the same time its private citizens want to reduce their leverage (common desires throughout the developed world), it must run a trade surplus. That's a simple accounting statement.

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  • Europe Throws a Hail Mary Pass

    In a 1975 playoff game, the Dallas Cowboys were nearly out of time and facing elimination from the playoffs, down 14-10 against a very good Minnesota Vikings team. The Cowboys future Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach had no very good options. He later said he dropped back to pass, closed his eyes and, as a good Catholic, said a Hail Mary and threw the ball as far as he could. Wide receiver Drew Pearson had to come back for the ball and, in a very controversial play, managed to catch the ball on his hip and stumble into the end zone. Angry Vikings fans threw trash onto the field, and one threw a whiskey bottle that knocked a referee out. After that play, all last-minute desperation passes became known as Hail Mary passes. (That was a very thrilling game to watch!)

    And that is what Europe did last weekend. They threw a Hail Mary pass in an attempt to avoid the loss of the eurozone. Jean-Claude Trichet blinked. Merkel capitulated. Today we consider what the consequences of this new European-styled TARP will be for Europe and the world. We do live in interesting times.

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  • The Future of Public Debt

    Everyone and their brother intuitively knows that the current government fiscal deficits in the developed world are unsustainable. They have to be brought under control, but that requires some short-term pain. Today we look at a rather remarkable piece of research from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) on what the fiscal crisis may morph into in the future, how much pain will be needed, and what will happen if various countries stay on their present courses. Some countries could end up paying north of 20% of GDP just on the interest to serve their debt, within just 30 years.

    Of course, the markets will not allow that to happen, long before it ever gets to that level. And what makes this important is that this is not some wild-eyed blogger, it's the BIS, a fairly sober crowd of capable economists. We will pay some attention. Then I'll throw in another few paragraphs about Goldman.

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  • What Does Greece Mean to You?

    How does an event like a problem in Greece (or elsewhere) affect you, gentle reader? That is the question I was posed this week. I mean, down where the rubber hits your road. Not some formula or writing about the velocity of money or the effect of taxes on GDP. 'I want to understand why you think this is so important.' So that is what I will attempt to do in this week's missive, as I write a letter to my kids trying to explain the almost inexplicable.

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  • The Implications of Velocity

    This week we do some review on a very important topic, the velocity of money. If we don’t understand the basics, it is hard to make sense of the hash that our world economy is in, much less understand where we are headed.

    But before we jump into that, I want to let my Conversations subscribers know that we have posted a recent conversation with two hedge-fund managers, Kyle Bass of Hayman Advisors [and his staff] here in Dallas and Hugh Hendry of the Eclectica Fund in London. Our discussions centered on what we all think has the potential to be the next Greece, but on a far more serious level. It was a fascinating time.

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  • Between Dire and Disastrous

    The news is somewhat 'All Greece, All the Time,' but most of the pieces miss the more critical elements, and in today's letter we will look at what I think those are, as well as at the important point that Greece is a precursor of a new era of sovereign risk. Plus, we glance at a few rather silly recent comments from economists. It will make for a very interesting discussion.

    A few weeks ago I mentioned my friend Sir Walt Ratterman, who was in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. Long-time readers know that every Christmas I ask you to make a donation to Knightsbridge and projects that Walt runs. You have been very generous over the years. Tragically, they have found Walt's body. For those interested, I will provide a few details about this true hero, toward the conclusion of the letter.

    Before we get into the meat of the letter, I want to give you a chance to register for my 6th (where do the years go?!) annual Strategic Investment Conference, cosponsored with my friends at Altegris Investments. The conference will be held April 22-24 and, as always, in La Jolla, California. The speaker lineup is powerful. Already committed are Dr. Gary Shilling, David Rosenberg, Dr. Lacy Hunt, Dr. Niall Ferguson, and George Friedman, as well as your humble analyst. We are talking with several other equally exciting speakers and expect those to firm up shortly.

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  • This Time is Different

    When does a potential crisis become an actual crisis, and how and why does it happen? Why did most everyone believe that there were no problems in the US (or Japanese or European or British) economies in 2006 and now we are mired in a very difficult situation. 'The subprime problem will be contained,' said now controversially confirmed Fed Chairman Bernanke, just months before the implosion and significant Fed intervention. I have just returned from Europe, and the discussion often turned to the potential of a crisis in the Eurozone if Greece defaults. Plus we take a look at the very positive US GDP numbers released this morning. Are we finally back to the Old Normal? There's just so much to talk about.

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  • Thoughts on the End Game

    When I was at Rice University, so many decades ago, I played a lot of bridge. I was only mediocre but enjoyed it. We had a professor, Dr. Culbertson, who was a bridge Life Master at an early age. He was single and lived in our college, playing bridge with us almost every night. He was a master of the 'end game.' He had an uncanny ability to seemingly force his opponents into no win situations, understanding where the cards had to lie and taking advantage.

    Traveling in London and on into Europe, I have some time to think away from the tyranny of the computer. Over the last year, and especially the last few months, I have written in depth about the problems we face all across the developed world. We have no good choices left, only hopefully choosing the correct unpleasant choice is now our option.

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  • When the Fed Stops the Music

    Last week we delved into the problems of uncertainty that face us, and make forecasting for 2010 problematical. Will the government actually increase taxes as much as they say with unemployment still likely to be at 10%? Or will cooler heads prevail? Will such an increase cause a recession? Will the markets anticipate the affect of such a major increase in advance? How will the mortgage market react when the Fed stops buying mortgage securities at the end of March? There are so many things in the air, and today we explore more of them, as I continue to (perhaps foolishly) try and peer into what is a very cloudy crystal ball.

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  • The Glide Path Option

    The present contains all possible futures. But not all futures are good ones. Some can be quite cruel. The one we actually get is dictated by the choices we make. For the last few months I have been addressing the choices in front of us, economically speaking. Today I am going to summarize them, and maybe we can look for some signposts that will tell us which way we are headed as we walk down the path. For those who are new readers and who would like a more in depth analysis, you can go to the archives and search for terms I am writing about. And I will start out briefly touching on today’s ugly unemployment numbers with data you did not get in the mainstream media.

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