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  • Italy: When Hope Is a Strategy

    I came back from Italy this week, and one of my guilty pleasures was being able to sit down and watch the last three episodes, including the season finale, of Game of Thrones. For those readers who are not enthralled with the fantasy epic from HBO or have not read the first five books (will he ever finish?), author George R.R. Martin has written one of the most complex fantasy series ever, about a world where everyone is occupied with who will sit on the Iron Throne.

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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 Monster That Is Europe

    The Complacency of Consensus
    The Sick (German) Banks of Europe
    Where There Is One Cockroach…
    It’s Quiet Out There. Maybe Too Quiet…
    A Few Gift Ideas
    Southern Cal, Dubai, Riyadh, and Western Canada

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  • Game of Thrones – European Style

    In 2009-10 it seemed like this letter was all Europe all the time. There was a never-ending crisis from one corner of the Continent to the other. That time seems to have slowly faded from our collective consciousness, but the Eurozone crisis is not over, and it will not end quickly or soon. Even if it seems to unfold in slow motion – like the slow build-up in a Game of Thrones storyline to violent internecine clashes followed by more slow plot developments but never any real resolution, the Eurozone debacle has never really gone away. The structural imbalances have still not been fixed; politicians and central bankers have still not agreed to solve major fiscal problems; the overall economy still disintegrates; unemployment is staggeringly high in some countries and still rising; and the people are growing restless.

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  • France: On the Edge of the Periphery

    Recently there have been a spate of horrific train wrecks in the news. Almost inevitably we find out there was human error involved. Almost four years ago I began writing about the coming train wreck that was Europe and specifically Greece. It was clear from the numbers that Greece would have to default, and I thought at the time that Portugal would not be too far behind. Spain and Italy clearly needed massive restructuring. Part of the problem I highlighted was the significant imbalance between exports and imports in all of the above countries.

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  • Austerity is a Four-Letter French Word

    The France that I see as I look out from the bullet train today is far different from the France I see when I survey the economic data. Going from Marseilles to Paris, the countryside is magnificent. The farms are laid out as if by a landscape artist – this is not the hurly-burly no-nonsense look of the Texas landscape. The mountains and forests that we glide through are glorious. It is a weekend of special music all over France, and last night in Marseilles the stages were alive and the crowds out in force. The French people smile and graciously correct my pidgin attempts at speaking French. I have found it diplomatic not to mention that I think France is in for a very difficult future. Why spoil the party?

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  • Forecast 2013: Unsustainability and Transition

    As we begin a new year, we again indulge ourselves in the annual (if somewhat futile) rite of forecasting the year ahead. This year I want to look out a little further than just one year in order to think about the changes that are soon going to be forced on the developed world. We are all going to have to make a very agile adaptation to a new economic environment (and it is one that I will welcome). The transition will offer both crisis and loss for those mired in the current system, which must evolve or perish, and opportunity for those who can see the necessity for change and take advantage of the evolution.

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  • Somewhere Over the Rainbow

    We are 13 years into a secular bear market in the United States. The Nasdaq is still down 40% from its high, and the Dow and S&P 500 are essentially flat. European and Japanese equities have generally fared worse.

    The average secular bear market in the US has been about 11 years, with the shortest to date being four years and the longest 20. Are we at the beginning of a new bull market or another seven years of famine? What sorts of returns should we expect over the coming years from US equities?

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  • Looking on the Bright Side

    It is Christmas Eve and not the time for long letters – just a brief note on why the fiscal cliff is not the End of All Things, and to point out a worthy cause led by some good friends of mine who are helping people who truly have no options in life. And we’ll start things off with a movie review of sorts to launch us into a positive take on the year behind and the year ahead.

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  • Central Bank Insurance

    Possibly, the question I am asked the most is, "What do you think about gold?" While I have written brief bits about the yellow metal, I cannot remember the last time I devoted a full e-letter to the subject of gold. Longtime readers know that I am a steady buyer of gold, but to my mind that is different from being bullish on gold. In this week's letter we will look at some recent research on gold and try to separate some of the myths surrounding gold from the rationale as to why you might want to own some of the "barbarous relic," as Keynes called it. My personal reasons for owning gold have evolved over the years. I will tell you the story of my own journey, and you can decide for yourself whether to think about coming along.

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  • Uncertainty and Risk in the Suicide Pool

    For the past 80 years, we have created ever more sophisticated models of risk in the economic and investment worlds. With each new tool we create to measure risk, we seem to think we have somehow gained more control over our future. Paradoxically, we appear to believe that the more we understand risk, the more we can somehow control our exposure to it. The more we build elaborate models and see correlations between events and the performance of our investments and the economy, the more confident we become.

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  • The Consequences of Easy Monetary Policy

    We heard from Bernanke today with his Jackson Hole speech. Not quite the fireworks of his speech ten years ago, but it does offer us a chance to contrast his thinking with that of another Federal Reserve official who just published a paper on the Dallas Federal Reserve website. Bernanke laid out the rationalization for his policy of ever more quantitative easing. But how effective is it? And are there unintended consequences we should be aware of? Why is it that the markets seem to positively salivate over the prospect of additional QE?

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  • How Change Happens

    "To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown – the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none… The cause-creating drive is thus conditioned and excited by the feeling of fear …"

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  • Time to Row, or Sail?

    Note to readers: Due to internet connection problems from the Shadow Fed fishing camp in Maine, important information that John wanted to include in this week's letter did not get out in time for the original deadline, and so we are reposting the letter.

    A few weeks ago, Ed Easterling and I updated the work we published almost ten years ago about secular bear and bull markets in chapters 5 and 6 of Bull's Eye Investing. This week I am in Maine at the annual Shadow Fed fishing trip (for those of us whose invitation to Jackson Hole keeps getting lost in the mail). Ed has graciously agreed to do another piece with me on the earnings, or business, cycle, which is different in timing than the secular stock market cycle but is part of the total warp and woof of the markets. When you combine them, you get a much clearer picture of the markets.

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