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  • Forecast 2011: Better than Muddle Through

    It is time once again to throw caution and wisdom to the wind and actually make my 11th annual forecast. I have to admit this is the most stressful letter I write each year. I do at least 5-10 times more research and thinking about this issue than any other. On a positive note, this may be one of the more optimistic forecast letters I have done in a long time. But there are some asterisks, as always. We will survey the world, trying to peer through the fog of the future. There are some very interesting side trails we will want to explore. Did you know some events in Russia could have real ramifications for inflation in China, the US, and the world? I pay attention to the background details and bring them to you. So settle back as we tour the world.

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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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  • O Deflation, Where is Thy Sting?

    The CPI was out this week, and it showed a continued drop in inflation. There were those who immediately pointed out that this vindicated the Fed's move to QE2. We have to get ahead of this deflation thing, don't we? Well, maybe, depending on how you measure inflation/deflation. This week we look deep into the BLS website on inflation to see just exactly what it is we are measuring, and then take a walk down Nostalgia Lane. But first we look at what I think we can call The Sputtering Economy, because that will tie into our inflation discussion.

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  • Be Careful What You Wish For

    This week we turn our attention to the elections and their aftermath. Long-time readers know I am a Republican, but I offer some sobering advice to my friends on my side of the aisle: Be careful what you wish for. It's one thing to get a few votes. It's quite another to live up to promises that simply can't be kept. We will start our analysis by looking at the GDP numbers that came out today, and we will end by pointing out that there will be no easy choices. And then we can turn our attention where it should be, to the World Series here in Texas.

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  • The Ride of the Keynesian Cowboys

    To ease or not to ease? That is the question we will take up this week. And if we do get another round of quantitative easing (QE2), will it make any difference? As I asked last week, what if they threw an inflation party and no one came? We will take as our launching pad today's unemployment numbers, which serve to demonstrate just why the Fed may in fact be ready for some monetary shock and awe.

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  • The Last Chapter

    This week you will get a kind of preview as this week's letter. I am desperately trying to finish the first draft of my book and am one chapter away from having that draft. I have promised my editor (Debra Englander) that she would see a rough draft next week, and the final version will be delivered on the last day of September. More on that process for those interested at the end of the letter. But this week's letter will be part of what will probably be the 4th or 5th chapter, where we look at the rules of economics.

    There is just so little writing time left that I have to focus on that book for a little bit. I am writing this book with co-author Jonathan Tepper of Variant Perception (who is based in London), a young and very gifted Rhodes scholar with a talent for economic analysis and writing. We each write the first draft of a chapter and then go back and forth until the chapter has been much improved. Alas, gentle reader, you will only get my first draft. You will have to wait for the book to get the new, improved version. But this is the last one I have to write. And Jonathan has done all his initial chapters. We are on the home stretch.

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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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  • The Frog in the Frying Pan

    Tonight I am in Venice, but I have arranged for a special edition of Thoughts from the Frontline, written by Jonathan Tepper of Variant Perception, a research firm in London. I have been corresponding with Jonathan for some time, and we have had some solid, and lately quite frequent, conversations. I am very impressed with this young man, whose perceptions and insights I find quite thoughtful. We are working hard together to finish a book that will be called The End Game, which we hope to have out this fall. It deals with the end of the debt supercycle in the developed world and the consequences for economies around the globe. Depending on where you live, the investment implications can be very different. The book will be very global in scope, and our intention is to make it so simple even a politician can understand. In countries all over the world, difficult choices lie ahead. We hope to give people a framework for making those choices and understanding the consequences. Our situation is not pretty, but ignoring those choices would be the worst choice of all.

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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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  • 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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  • 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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