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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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  • The Case for a Fed Rate Hike

    Everywhere there are arguments that we are in a 'V'-shaped recovery. And there are signs that in fact that is the case. Today we will look at some of those, and then take up the topic of when the Fed will raise rates. We open the case and look at the evidence. Is there enough to come to a real conviction? I think there is. (And at the end of the letter I mention two conferences I am speaking at in the next few months, in Vancouver and San Francisco.)

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  • The Center Cannot Hold

    Last week we focused on the first half of a paper by the Bank of International Settlements, discussing what they characterized as the need for 'Drastic measures ... to check the rapid growth of current and future liabilities of governments and reduce their adverse consequences for long-term growth and monetary stability.' As I noted, you don't often see the term drastic measures in a staid economic paper from the BIS. This week we will look at the conclusion of that paper, and then turn our discussion to the fallout from the problems they discuss, initially in Europe but coming soon to a country near you.

    But first, what a week in the markets! I'm sure more than a few investors felt like they had a severe case of whiplash. We will discuss the volatility a little more below.

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  • Is This a Recovery?

    Last week I wrote a letter to my kids trying to explain what Greece meant to them. Reader Ken V wrote: 'Great letter, John. Now you should write one for the adults who are retired and don't have the long future your kids do. If the US becomes Greece, things won't recover in time for much of the rest of my life to be more than one grim, dreary period. What is your investment advice for those with roughly a 10 year horizon, not 30-40-50 years?'

    A very good question Ken, and one that was asked more than a few times. So today, I will touch on that thorny issue, as well as look at the employment numbers for what we see about the potential for an actual recovery.

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  • A Bubble in Search of a Pin

    Should Greenspan and Bernanke have seen the bubble in housing and other assets and acted, or should we accept their defense that you can't know whether there is a bubble until after the fact? We will look at research that suggests they should have known, and, at the least, policy makers should no longer be allowed to say, 'How could I have known?'

    Of course, the employment numbers came out this morning, and the results are mixed; but that is better than they have been for the past two years. We dig into the numbers to see what they are really saying. And finally, we examine why the markets are so volatile. Is it just Greece, or is there more? There's a lot of very interesting, and important, material to cover.

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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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  • A Conversation with John

    This week I am in New York, and have a whirlwind of meetings (and I admit, a lot of fun on the side) and not much time to write. I have been saving today's letter for a month or so, for a time such as this. Damien Hoffman of the Wall Street Cheat Sheet interviewed me and posted the transcript on his web site. I thought it was one of the better interviews I have done recently, and so it is this week's Thoughts from the Frontline. In addition to the wide-ranging economic questions, he asks for my thoughts on how one becomes an investment writer. I often demur when asked that question (what do I know?), but did my best to answer this time. I think you will enjoy the letter. (By the way, he does a lot of interesting interviews, which he posts for free on his web site at www.wallstcheatsheet.com.)

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  • Why I am an Optimist

    I admit that of late my writings have had a rather dark tone. There are certainly a number of severe long-term problems that we must deal with, and they're going to serve up a lot of economic pain. But the Thanksgiving weekend with the kids has me in a reflective mood, and one that has only served to underscore my long-term optimism. This week we look at why 2007 will not be the good old days we will yearn for in 20 years, after we briefly visit Dubai and the latest unemployment numbers....
  • 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 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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  • 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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  • Killing the Goose

    Peggy Noonan, maybe the most gifted essayist of our time, wrote a few weeks ago about the vague concern that many of us have that the current path we are on has the potential (my interpretation) for not just plucking a few feathers from the goose that lays the golden egg (the US free market economy), or taking a few more of the valuable eggs but of actually killing the goose. Today we look at the possibility that the fiscal path of the enormous US government deficits we are on could indeed kill the goose, or harm it so that it will make the lost decades that Japan has suffered seem like a walk in the park.

    And while I do not think we will get to that point (although I can’t deny the possibility) , for reasons I will go into, there is the very real prospect that the upheavals created by not dealing proactively with the problems (or denying they exist) will be as bad as or worse than the credit crisis we have gone through. This is not going to be something that happens overnight, and the seeming return to normalcy that so many predict has the rather alarming aspect of creating a sense of complacency that will only serve to 'kick the can' down the road.

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  • The Elements of Deflation

    As every school child knows, water is formed by the two elements of hydrogen and oxygen in a very simple formula we all know as H2O. Today we start a series that starts with the question, What are the elements that comprise deflation? Far from being simple, the "equation" for deflation is as complex as that of DNA. And sadly, while the genome project has helped us with great insights into how DNA works, economic analysis is still back in the 1950s when it comes to decoding deflation. Notwithstanding the paucity of understanding we can glean from the dismal science, in this week's letter we will start thinking about the most fundamentally important question of the day: is inflation, or deflation, in our future?

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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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