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  • Arsonists Running the Fire Brigade

    Six years ago I hosted my first Thanksgiving in a Dallas high-rise, and my then-90-year-old mother came to celebrate, along with about 25 other family members and friends. We were ensconced in the 21st floor penthouse, carousing merrily, when the fire alarms went off and fire trucks began to descend on the building. There was indeed a fire, and we had to carry my poor mother down 21 flights of stairs through smoke and chaos as the firemen rushed to put out the fire. So much for the advanced fire-sprinkler system, which failed to work correctly.

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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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  • Unrealistic Expectations

    Way back in the Paleozoic era (as far as markets are concerned), circa 2003, I wrote in this letter and in Bull's Eye Investing that the pension liabilities of state and municipal plans would soon top $2 trillion. This was of course far above the stated actuarial claims at the time, and I was seen as such a pessimist. Everyone knew that the market would compound at 9%, so any problems were just a rounding error.

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  • How Do I Hate Thee?

    When I was growing up, Labor Day always marked the official end of summer, since we started school the next day. These days everyone seems to start school sometime in August, but for those of us of a certain age, the natural annual rhythm is still to see the last few days of August as the end of a carefree summer. So with a nod to your need for a little more summer relaxation, I will try to keep this letter shorter than usual. And with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I will list a number of reasons why I hate this market and then suggest a few reasons why that should get you excited. We will look at some charts, and I'll briefly comment on them. No deep dives this week, just a survey of the general landscape.

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  • A Venture Investor from Bell Labs Channels the Noise and the Knowledge

    Investors seek that elusive substance called alpha. It is too often remains hidden from them, and instead they find some form of beta, or simply what the market gives everyone. Sometimes, in secular bull markets, that can be plenty and investors feel secure. But in the secular bear cycles investing is a difficult task and one that at the end of the day may find you distressingly close to where you started.

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  • The Quest for Certainty

    The last two weeks we have been looking at the problems with models. First we touched on what I called the Economic Singularity. In physics a singularity is where the mathematical models no longer work. For example, models based on the physics of relativity no longer work if one gets too close to a black hole. If we think of too much debt as a black hole of sorts, we may understand why economic models no longer work. Last week, in “The Perils of Fiscal Cliff,” we looked at the use of fiscal multipliers by economists in order to argue for or against governmental economic policies. Do you argue for austerity, or against it? There is a model that will support your case, most likely using the same data that your adversary uses.

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  • Into the Matrix

    What does the current environment of earnings and valuations tell us about the prospects for the US stock markets in general over the next 3-5-7-10 years? This week we have part two of "Bull's Eye Investing Ten Years Later," which we started last week. These two letters have been co-authored with Ed Easterling of Crestmont Research. We take a look at research we did almost ten years ago as part of my book Bull's Eye Investing,updating the data and asking,"Are we there yet? When will we get to the end of the secular bear market?" We will start with a few paragraphs from last week's letter and then move right along.

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  • Bull’s Eye Investing (Almost) Ten Years Later

    It's been almost a decade since I co-authored with Ed Easterling of Crestmont Research some research in this letter that later became chapters five and six ofBull's Eye Investing. Although the ten-year anniversary of the book is actually 2013, the current vulnerabilities in the markets encouraged us to revisit the material a bit early, to prepare you for what lies ahead. Reflecting back to yesteryear gives us the opportunity to assess the accuracy of our insights.

    I am in Tuscany at the moment, watching the sun set over the Tuscan hills; so I will thank Ed for doing the heavy lifting in this letter while I get to relax, although there is so much going on and I am such a junkie that I am forced to get my current-events fix every day. I must say, the news certainly provides some very pure adrenaline rushes. But more on that at the end. For now we take the longer view of the stock market that I first wrote about at the end of the last century, and to which Ed added some real meat in early 2003.

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  • Your Three Investing Opponents

    It’s Christmas Eve and that time of year when we start thinking about what we did in the past year and what we want to do in the next. Why do we make the mistakes we make (over and over and over?) and how do we avoid them in the future? If it seems to be part of our basic human condition, that’s because it is. Recently I have been having a running conversation with Barry Ritholtz on the psychology of investing (something we both enjoy discussing and writing about). Since I am busily researching my annual forecast issue (and taking the day off), I asked Barry to share a few of his thoughts on why we do the things we do. He gives us even more, exploring the three main opponents we face when we enter the arena of investing.

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  • The Case for Going Global Is Stronger Than Ever

    In This Issue:

    The Case for Going Global Is Stronger Than Ever
    The US Markets Are Still In Trouble
    Undercapitalization
    Emerging Markets Still Undervalued
    Global Capital Shift Is Accelerating
    The Biggest Growth Will Be in the Most Obvious Places (and Sectors)
    Conventional Diversification Won’t Cut It Any Longer
    Risks (and there are plenty)
    Maine and QE3, Operation Twist, etc.?

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  • First, Let’s Kill the Angels

    When you draft a 1,300-page "financial reform" bill, various special interests get language tucked into the bill to help their agendas. However, the unintended consequences can be devastating. And the financial reform bill has more than a few such items. Today, we look briefly at a few innocent paragraphs that could simply kill the job-creation engine of the US. I know that a few Congressmen and even more staffers read my letter, so I hope that someone can fix this. The Wall Street Journal today noted that the bill, while flawed, keeps getting better with each revision. Let's hope that's the case here.

    Then I'll comment on the Goldman Sachs indictment. As we all know, there is never just one cockroach. This could be a much bigger story, and understanding some of the details may help you. As an aside, I was writing in late 2006 about the very Collateralized Debt Obligations that are now front and center. There is both more and less to the story than has come out so far. And I'll speculate about how all this could have happened. Let's jump right in.

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  • How Shall We Then Invest?

    Warren Buffett says buy. Jeremy Grantham says it will get worse. Both are celebrated value investors. Who is right? It all depends upon your view of the third derivative of investing. Today we look at valuations in the stock market. This is the second part of a speech I have given in the past few weeks in California and Stockholm. I am updating the numbers, as the target keeps moving. While from one perspective things look rather difficult, from another there is a ray of hope. What can you expect to earn from stocks over the next five years? It should make for an interesting letter. Note: this will be a little longer than usual, but part of it is there are a LOT of charts. I should note that I am rewriting this on Monday. For the first time in over 8 years, I missed my Friday night deadline (see below). Last week's title for the letter was "The Economic Blue Screen of Death." By that I referred to the old "blue screen of death" that we used to get on early versions of Microsoft MS-DOS and Windows. You could be working away and suddenly, for no apparent reason, the computer would freeze up and you would get a blue screen. The only thing you could do was unplug the computer and hit the reset button - losing everything that was not saved when the computer crashed....
  • Why Investors Fail

    This week I am in South Africa and am not as connected as I would like to be due to meetings and slow Internet, so we are going to look at some material from my book, Bull's Eye Investing, which I think is more pertinent than ever. And since lately there has been rather large growth in the readership, there are a significant number of new readers for whom this material will be fresh....
  • The Rules of Trading

    Introduction The economy created 215,000 new jobs in November. A paltry 11,000 were manufacturing. Is that good enough? In previous recoveries we would have been seeing jobs created at a much higher level. But that number is not quite the story. Actually...
  • As Though It Were Real Money

    Introduction "Our analysis leads us to believe that recovery is only sound if it does come from itself. For any revival which is merely due to artificial stimulus leaves part of the work of depression undone and adds, to an undigested remnant of...