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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 Dismal Science Really Is

    There's a reason economics is called the dismal science, and weeks like this just give it further meaning. In economics, there is what you see and what you don't see. This week we are going to look at the headline data we see and take a look at what most observers do not see. Then we will try and think about what it really means. With employment, housing and the ISM numbers, there is a lot to cover. And this letter will print out longer than usual as there are a lot of charts. Warning: remove sharp objects from the vicinity and pour yourself your favorite adult beverage. This does not make for fun reading.

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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 Multiplication of Money

    The economy grew in the fourth quarter by 5.9%, the most in years. The adjusted monetary base is exploding. Bank reserves are literally through the roof. The Fed is flooding money into the system in an effort to get banks to lend. An historically normal response by banks (to increase lending) would have been massively inflationary, causing the Fed to stomp on the brakes. Despite raising the almost meaningless discount rate (as who uses it?), this week Ben Bernanke assured Congress of an easy monetary policy, with rates remaining low for a long time. Many ask, how can this not be inflationary?

    This week we look at some fundamentals of money supply and the economy. If you understand this, you won't get misled by people selling investments, telling you to buy this or that based on some chart that shows whatever they are selling to be what you absolutely have to have to protect your portfolio and/or make massive profits. And we touch on a few odds and ends. And yes, I can't resist, a few more thoughts on Greece. It will make for an interesting letter, as I'm writing on a plane to San Jose. And it will print a bit longer than usual, because there are a lot of charts.

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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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  • Where the Wild Things Are

    Where the Wild Things Are is a beloved children's book and now a beautiful movie. But in the investment world there are really scary wild things lurking about in the hidden recesses of the economic landscape. Today we look at one of the unintended consequences of the Federal Reserve's low interest rate policy.

    For quite some time, I have been arguing that we are faced with no good choices, not just in the US but in the entire 'developed' world. I see a low-growth, Muddle Through world over the next years (with a double-dip recession just to liven things up). However, that does not mean that we will lack for volatility. Things could get volatile rather quickly. Let's quickly set the background.

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  • Catching Argentinian Disease

    I have been in South America this week, speaking nine times in five days interspersed with lots of meetings. The conversation kept coming back to the prospects for the dollar, but I was just as interested in talking with money managers and business people who had experienced the hyperinflation of Argentina and Brazil. How could such a thing happen? As it turned out, I was reading a rather remarkable book that addressed that question. There are those who believe that the United States is headed for hyperinflation because of our large and growing government fiscal deficit and the massive future liabilities (as much as $56 trillion) for Medicare and Social Security.

    This week, we will look at the Argentinean experience and ask ourselves whether 'it' - hyperinflation - can happen here.

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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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  • Elements of Deflation, Part 2

    Just as water is formed by the basic elements hydrogen and oxygen, deflation has its own fundamental components. Last week we started exploring those elements, and this week we continue. I feel that the most fundamental of decisions we face in building investment portfolios is correctly deciding whether we are faced with inflation or deflation in our future. (And I tell you later on when to worry about inflation.) Most investments behave quite differently depending on whether we are in a deflationary or inflationary environment. Get this answer wrong and it could rise up to bite you.

    The problem is that there is not an easy answer. In fact, the answer is that it could be both. Today I got another letter from Peter Schiff, who seems to be ubiquitous. He says the rise in gold is because of rising inflation expectations among investors. Gold is predicting inflation. Maybe, but the correlation between gold and inflation for the last 25-plus years has been zero. I rather think that gold is rising in terms of value against most major fiat (paper) currencies because it is seen as a neutral currency. The Fed and the Obama administration seem to be pursuing policies that are dollar-negative, and they give no hint of letting up. The rise in gold above $1,000 does not really tell us anything about the future of inflation.

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  • The Great Reflation Experiment

    The question we have been focused on for some time now is whether we end up with inflation, or deflation, and what that endgame looks like. It is one of the most important questions an investor must ask today, and getting the answer right is critical. This week, we have a guest writer who takes on the topic of the great experiment the Fed is now waging, which he calls The Great Reflation Experiment.

    One of my favorite sources of information for decades has been and remains the Bank Credit Analyst. It has a long and storied reputation. One of their enduring themes has been the debt super cycle. Investors who have paid attention to it have been served well. I am taking a little R&R this weekend, but I have arranged for my friend Tony Boeckh to stand in for me. Tony was chairman, chief executive, and editor-in-chief of Montreal-based BCA Research, publisher of the highly regarded Bank Credit Analyst up until he retired in 2002. He still likes to write from time to time, and we are lucky enough to have him give us his views on where we are in the economic cycles. Gentle reader, we are all graced to learn from one of the great economists and analysts of our times. Pay attention. Central bankers do. You can read his extensive bio at www.boeckhinvestmentletter.com and I will tell you how to get his letter free of charge at the end of this letter. And, he told me to mention that his son Rob is now helping him write, so there is a double byline here. Now, let's just jump in.

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  • 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....
  • 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....
  • Further Thoughts on the Continuing Crisis

    When confronted about an apparent change of his opinions, John Maynard Keynes is reported to have said, 'When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?' The earnings season for the 4th quarter is almost 80% complete, and the facts are dismal. It is worse than the current data shows, and could get uglier. Unemployment is increasing, and consumers are both saving more and spending less as incomes are not keeping pace with what little inflation there is. All in all, a very different set of facts than a few quarters ago. This week we examine some of the new facts, and start out by analyzing how Thoughts from the Frontline has done over the past two years with some of the more important predictions. It should make for an interesting letter....
  • I Meant to Do That

    The Fed has taken interest rates to zero. They have clearly started a program of quantitative easing. What exactly does that mean? Are we all now Japanese? Is the Fed pushing on a string, as Japan has done for almost two decades? The quick answer is no, but the quick answer doesn't tell us much. We may not be in for a two-decades-long Japanese malaise, but we will experience a whole new set of circumstances. In what will hopefully be a shorter holiday version of the e-letter, I will tackle these questions and more....