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  • Europe on the Brink

    We have avoided Armageddon, at least for now. The cost to the US taxpayer has been a few trillion. Some in the media are loudly announcing the end of the recession. But we are not out of the woods yet. There are a few more bumps in the road. Actually, some of them are quite steep hills. As big as the subprime problem? Maybe.

    When asked a few weeks ago what was my biggest short-term concern, I quickly replied, 'European banks have the potential to create significant risk for the entire worldwide system.' This week we will glance "over the pond" to see what gives me cause for concern. Then we briefly look at a few of the bumps I mentioned, which are likely to stretch out any recovery, and maybe even dip us back into recession.

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  • Buddy, Can You Spare $5 Trillion?

    There is no doubt that the US is in financial trouble. Those talking of a strong recovery are just not dealing with reality. But the US is in better shape than a lot of countries. This week, we begin by looking at Japan. I have written for years about how large their debt-to-GDP ratio is, yet they keep on issuing more debt and seemingly getting away with it. But now, several factors are conspiring to create real problems for the Land of the Rising Sun. They may soon run into a very serious-sized wall. And it is not just Japan. Where will the world find $5 trillion to finance government debt? We look at some very worrisome graphs. Those in the US who think that what happens in the rest of the world doesn't matter just don't get it. There is a lot to cover in what will be a very interesting letter. I suggest removing sharp objects or pouring yourself a nice adult beverage....
  • 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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  • The New, New Normal

    We are coming to a critical inflection point, perhaps the most critical point that we have had in 70 years for the US and to a great extent the global economy. The choices we make (or that Congress and the Fed make for us) will affect not just our investment portfolios but business and our jobs for a very long time. Last week I talked about the three paths we face as a nation. I want to go back to that theme and expand upon it. You need to clearly understand what the risks are so that you can interpret the actions and data that will be coming at us in the next few quarters. I am feeling a little tired today, so I am going to take the liberty to reproduce Bill Gross's latest comments as well, which are somewhat in line with my own....
  • This Way There Be Dragons

    In fantasy novels the intrepid heroes come across a sign saying 'This Way Be Dragons.' Of course, they venture on, facing calamity and death, but such is the nature of fantasy novels. We live in a very real world, and if we don't turn around there will be some very nasty dragons in our future. This week we look at three possible paths we can lead the world down. We then review a number of charts and data on the housing market.

    If you just read the headlines on this week's data, you could be forgiven for assuming the worst is over -- not. And then finally we look at some rather stark comparative data on the health-care systems of the US, Canada, and Great Britain. Everyone knows the US pays way more in terms of GDP than the latter two countries. Are we getting our money's worth? There is a lot to cover, and I hope to finish this on a flight to Naples, so let's jump right in....
  • The Paradox of Deficits

    There is something that is bumping around in my worry closet. The bond market is not behaving as if there is deflation in our future, and the dollar is getting weaker. Unemployment keeps rising, but most of all, the US government deficit looks to be spinning out of control. This week we look at all of this and take a tour around the world to see what is happening. There is a lot of interesting material to cover.

    As of this week, total US debt is $11.3 trillion and rising rapidly. The Obama Administration projects that to rise another $1.85 trillion in 2009 (13% of GDP) and yet another $1.4 trillion in 2010. The Congressional Budget Office projects almost $10 trillion in additional debt from 2010 through 2019. Just last January the 2009 deficit was estimated at "only" $1.2 trillion. Things have gone downhill fast.

    But there is reason to be concerned about those estimates, too. The CBO assumes a rather robust recovery in 2010, with growth springing back to 3.8% and then up to 4.5% in 2011. Interestingly, they project unemployment of 8.8% for this year (we are already at 8.9% and rising every month) and that it will rise to 9% next year. It will be a strange recovery indeed where the economy is roaring along at 4% and unemployment isn't falling. (You can see their spreadsheets and all the details if you take your blood pressure medicine first, at www.cbo.gov.)...
  • 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....
  • Sell in May and Go Away

    The old adage that one should 'sell in May and walk away' has been around for years. I mentioned that bromide about this time last year, urging readers to head for the sidelines if they had not already done so. I was also suggesting a strategic retreat in August of 2006 (after which the markets went up 20% before plummeting). In this week's letter we look at the actual data and offer up a fresh viewpoint. Then we turn our eyes to the recent GDP numbers, which were awful, though many took comfort in the apparent rise in consumer spending. Are Americans back to their old ways? It will make for an interesting letter....
  • 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....
  • The Trend May Not Be Your Friend

    Two weeks ago I presented my thoughts on the current economic situation at my 6th Annual Strategic Investment Conference in La Jolla (co-hosted with Altegris Investments). The speech was well-received, at least to judge from the comment forms. So this week and next, we are going to revisit that talk (with a few edits). Let's start with a little set-up to explain the first few paragraphs.

    My speech was Saturday morning. On Friday, I wore a nice grey suit with a Leonardo tie. For those who know about Leonardo's, they are 'statement' ties. I should note that Tiffani picked the tie out for me about ten years ago and persuaded me to wear it. It took some getting used to. It is 16 silk-screened colors, bright blues and pinks and grays, the central feature of which is a very vivid parrot. It is not subdued.

    When my good friend George Friedman of Stratfor gave his speech on Friday, he commented rather derisively about my taste in ties, which got him a few laughs. This did not bother me too much since, while George is a brilliant geopolitical analyst, his sense of sartorial style is not exactly top-drawer. So now, let's jump into the speech....
  • Solving the Housing Crisis

    This last Tuesday the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by my friend Gary Shilling and Richard LeFrak. They offer a simple solution for the housing crisis: give foreigners who will come to the US and buy a home resident status (green cards). This is a very important proposal and one that deserves national attention and action. Gary was kind enough to send me two lengthier white papers offering more facts. In this week's letter we are going to look at this proposal in more detail than the small space that an op-ed can offer. And while this letter will be somewhat controversial in some circles, I ask that you read it through, giving me the time to make the case. I will also add a few thoughts as to why this could not only help solve the housing crisis, but help put the nation back into growth mode.

    Long-time readers know that I have been growing more and more bearish of late. I have been writing for a long time that we are in for a long period of slow Muddle Through growth as the twin crises of the housing bubble and credit bubbles require time to heal. Today we look at a serious proposal for cutting the time to healing for at least one of those bubbles (housing), and at least keep the other (credit) from getting worse. This is the most serious idea I have seen that could actually make a real positive contribution to the economy and help put us back on a growth path....
  • The Swiss Start Their Engines

    This week we look at the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan is going through major upheavals, and they will have consequences all over the world. And what are those wild and crazy Swiss central bankers up to? It's time for another round of competitive devaluation. And of course I have to look at the recent Barron's cover story, about how stocks are cheap. There's a lot to cover. But first, and quickly, I just wanted to take a moment and remind you to sign up for the Richard Russell Tribute Dinner, all set for Saturday, April 4 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego - if you haven't already. This is sure to be an extraordinary evening honoring a great friend and associate of mine, and yours as well. I do hope that you can join us for a night of memories, laughs, and good fun with fellow admirers and long-time readers of Richard's Dow Theory Letter. The room is filling up and there will be a very large crowd....
  • While Rome Burns

    When I sit down each week to write, I essentially do what I did nine years ago when I started writing this letter. I write to you, as an individual. I don't think of a large group of people, just a simple letter to a friend. It is only half a joke that this letter is written to my one million closest friends. That is the way I think of it. This week's letter is likely to lose me a few friends, though. I am going to start a series on money management, portfolio construction, and money managers. It will be back to the basics for both new and long-time readers. I am not sure how long it will take (in terms of weeks), but it is likely to make a few people upset and provoke some strong disagreements. Let's just say this is not stocks for the long run. And because many of you want some continuing analysis of the current crisis, each week I will throw in a few pages of commentary at the beginning of the letter....