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  • Recessions are on the Margin

    And the data out over the last few weeks tells us it is getting better. Does this take us out of the double-dip woods, even as the Fed is lowering its forecast? And what is a recession? Yes, we all know it's when the economy doesn't grow, but we are in a rather unique economic environment, this time. Maybe things are getting better, but is it enough to get us back on the road to full employment?

    Let's start off with what is going right. We had a slate of news over the past few weeks that was good. The ECRI weekly Leading Index, after some ugly downtrends, is showing signs of turning around. We have had small increases each week since October 15, and the annualized growth rate of the index is now only -3.1%, having increased for 12 weeks. Its recent low was in July. Yes, I know that a large part of that growth is in the financial sector, as the stock market is up and interest rates are low, but it does suggest that 2011 should not be a recession year.

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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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  • How We Get Through This Mess

    The group was a Vistage group in which my daughter Tiffani participates. This is an organization of 12 businesspeople (in this case all CEOs of small businesses) who meet once a month to share and learn about better business practices, accountability, planning, and all the aspects of running a business. Every person I have ever met who has been involved in Vistage has had good things to say about it. I have watched it help Tiffani a lot. She truly runs our business now, allowing me to read and write and travel and speak. I am a very lucky man and proud Dad.

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  • It's More Than Just Birth-Death

    Just how dynamic is the US job market? If I told you we created over 4 million jobs in April, would you believe me? I had a long conversation with Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO yesterday. He is openly speculating that employment may no longer be just a lagging indicator but may also be predictive. It is an interesting insight, which we will explore as we take a very deep look at US employment. And I answer a few questions about my thought that there is a 60% chance for a recession in 2011, and why there is a 40% chance we won't. What could change those numbers? We explore that and more, while I suffer from the injustice that LeBron will play with Wade and Bosh. Where's a nonproliferation treaty when you need it?

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  • 2010 Forecast: The Year of Uncertainty

    This will be my tenth annual forecast issue. Time has flown by as I enter a new decade of writing Thoughts from the Frontline. And even as I write about the high level of uncertainty of the current times, I am optimistic that at the beginning of the next decade we will look back and realize that there has been an enormous amount of progress made. None of us will want to revisit the pleasures of the past ten aught years in some nostalgic dream. I am so ready for a new decade.

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  • Thoughts on the Statistical Recovery

    We are clearly starting to get some better data points here and there. But as I pointed out this summer, it is going to be a recovery in the statistics and not in the things that count, such as income and employment. This week we look at the nascent recovery (which could be at 3% this quarter) and try to look out into the future to see what it means. We look at how recoveries come about, and why I am concerned that we will see a double dip recession. Plus, I learned some new tricks courtesy of my new granddaughter which Tiffani had this week. There is a lot to cover, but it should be interesting.

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  • If This Is Recovery…

    No one goes into Wal-Mart and asks to pay extra sales tax. Thus sales taxes are reasonable barometers for retail sales. This week we look at how taxes are doing in a period of economic recovery. Then we turn our eyes to a very interesting (and sobering) analysis of possible future unemployment rates. This is an anecdote to the happy-face analysis of employment numbers you get from establishment economists. There will be a lot of charts and tables, so this letter may print a little longer, but I think you will find it very interesting.

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  • The Statistical Recovery, Part 2

    A few weeks ago I first used the term 'statistical recovery' to describe the nature of today's economic environment. Today we are going to further explore that concept, as it is important to have a real understanding of what is happening. This coming 'recovery' is not going to feel like a typical one, and those expecting a 'V'-shaped recovery are simply making projections from previous economic recoveries, which, based on the fundamentals, are not warranted. And of course, a few thoughts coming back from Maine are in order. There is a lot to cover, and this may take more than one letter.

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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 End of the Recession?

    Last week we began a series on data abuse, about how various commentators twist and torture data to make it say what they want, or fail to look at the details underneath the headlines. Predictably, there is a lot of fodder this week as we forge ahead into this ripe territory. The headlines screamed that US income data went up unexpectedly. Green shoots were everywhere. But if you look at the actual data, you find something much different. And, I keep hearing the insistent refrain that the market is telling us that the recovery is around the corner. Well, the recovery may be, but can the market really tell us that? I have about 25 windows open in my computer, with tons of misleading data. Let's see how much we can cover in this week's letter....
  • This Time its Different*

    I have often written that the four most dangerous words in the investment world are 'This Time its Different.' If memory serves me, I have written several e-letters disparaging various personages who have uttered those very words, only to find out later that it wasn't different. It almost never is. And yet - and yet! - I am going to make the case over the next few weeks that it really is different this time, with only a lonely asterisk as a caveat. What prompts my probable foolishness to tempt the investing gods in going so far out on a limb is the rather large amount of bad analysis based on unreasonable (dare I say lazy or surface?) readings of statistics that is coming from the main stream investment media and investment types with a built in bias for bullish analysis. Normally, gentle reader, your humble analyst is a paragon of moderate sensibilities, but I have been pushed over a mental edge and need to restore balance. I anticipate that this topic will take several weeks, as trying to cover it all in one sitting would exhaust both of us. It should be fun. But first...

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  • Faith-Based Economics

    Why does government data need to be revised so often? Is it conspiracy, as some claim, or is it methodology? And if it is methodology that leads to faulty data, then why not change the methodology? Is unemployment a lagging indicator, as conventional wisdom suggests? We look again at the underlying assumptions to suggest that things are not always the same. And finally, we look at unsustainable trends, fiscal deficits, and health care -- there is a connection.

    But first, a quick note about the latest 'Conversations with John Mauldin' that I just did with Don Coxe and Gary Shilling. These two esteemed analysts have different views on whether commodity prices will rise or fall, and are not afraid to make their views known. I edited the final transcript today, and I can tell you that even though I was 'at the table' I learned a lot reading it the second time. If you want to understand the nature of what is a very central debate, this is a must-read. This was a VERY lively debate. Most of my friends know that I am not shy, but it was hard to get a word in edgewise as these guys went at it. It was great fun to watch....
  • Green Shoots or Dandelion Weeds?

    Go to Google. Type in 'green shoots.' In about a 10th of a second you will find 28,900,000 references. Scrolling through a few pages, you find a lot of references to the beginning of the end of the recession. Today we look at some data to see if we can indeed see the end. Most readers will be surprised to know that the number of people employed in the US went up (!) in April. Yet so did the unemployment rate. Is that green shoot just another dandelion weed in our economic garden?

    We'll jump into that and more, but first let me quickly mention the new subscription service that we began offering this year, called 'Conversations with John Mauldin.' One of my 'secrets' is that I have a very powerful rolodex (or, for the younger crowd, my contacts list). In this new project, each month I call up one or two of my special contacts in the investment and economic world and hold a conversation with them about the important topics of the day -- where the US and global economies are going, how we should be investing, what opportunities and pitfalls are out there, etc. Some will be names you recognize, and others will be names you will want to know. You get to listen in, download to your computer, or read a transcript -- whichever you prefer....
  • 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....