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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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  • The Risk of Recession

    We are halfway through the year (where did the time go?) and it is time to make some predictions about the last half of the year. This week we look at what the leading indicators are telling us, size up a new indicator, drop in on banking data, and do a whole lot more.

    Quickly, I will be on Larry Kudlow's show next Tuesday, which is at 7 pm Eastern. Larry has promised that we will spend some quality time on some of the current issues facing us. See you there! And now, let's jump in.

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  • You Should Be Careful What You Wish For

    'Everyone' is upset with the level of fiscal deficits being run by nearly every developed country. And with much justification. The levels of fiscal deficits are unsustainable and threaten to bring many countries to the desperate situation that Greece now finds itself in. We must balance the budget is the cry of fiscal conservatives. But there are unseen consequences in moving both too fast or too slow in the effort to get the deficits under control. Today we look at them as we explore what a fine mess we have gotten ourselves into. (I am working without internet today so the letter will be shorter with fewer references than normal.)...
  • 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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  • Six Impossible Things

    Economists and policy makers seem to want to believe impossible things in regards to the current debt crisis percolating throughout the world. And believing in them, they are adopting policies that will result in, well, tragedy. Today we address what passes for wisdom among the political crowd and see where we are headed, especially in Europe....
  • 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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  • 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 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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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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 Threat to Muddle Through

    If the Chinese allowed the renminbi to rise, would that make the USA better off? That is the contention of a cabal of critics from Senators to Nobel laureates. Paul Krugman wants to see a 25% tariff on Chinese goods. Today we examine that idea, and look at the real problems that we face. If only it were so easy. The numbers just don't add up. The fault, dear Brutus...

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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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