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  • It's More Than Just Birth-Death

    Just how dynamic is the US job market? If I told you we created over 4 million jobs in April, would you believe me? I had a long conversation with Mohamed El-Erian of PIMCO yesterday. He is openly speculating that employment may no longer be just a lagging indicator but may also be predictive. It is an interesting insight, which we will explore as we take a very deep look at US employment. And I answer a few questions about my thought that there is a 60% chance for a recession in 2011, and why there is a 40% chance we won't. What could change those numbers? We explore that and more, while I suffer from the injustice that LeBron will play with Wade and Bosh. Where's a nonproliferation treaty when you need it?

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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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  • 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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  • The Age of Deleveraging

    This is the season when pundits feel compelled to make annual forecasts. I will make mine, as I traditionally do, in the first letter of January. But already we have seen a wide range of forecasted outcomes. Are we going to grow at 5-6% or at 1-2% or dip back into recession? Why such disparity? I think part of the reason is a basic disagreement on the nature of the just-lapsed recession. Today we explore that issue. Then I point you to a way to help those who are desperately in need and only wish they had our problems. For those interested, I enclose a picture of my new granddaughter.

    And finally, I start the process of getting ready, after ten years, to actually buy some stocks. Yes, it is true. Am I throwing in the towel and becoming a bull, or do I just see an opportunity? Stay tuned.

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  • Thoughts on the Statistical Recovery

    We are clearly starting to get some better data points here and there. But as I pointed out this summer, it is going to be a recovery in the statistics and not in the things that count, such as income and employment. This week we look at the nascent recovery (which could be at 3% this quarter) and try to look out into the future to see what it means. We look at how recoveries come about, and why I am concerned that we will see a double dip recession. Plus, I learned some new tricks courtesy of my new granddaughter which Tiffani had this week. There is a lot to cover, but it should be interesting.

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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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  • 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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  • Welcome to the New Normal

    Unemployment is high and rising. But if the recession is over, won't employment start to rise? The quick answer is no. We look deeper into the Statistical Recovery and find yet more reasons to be concerned about near-term deflation. This week we consider all things unemployment and ponder the need to create at least 15 million jobs in the next five years to return to a full-employment economy - and the implications for both the US and world economies if we don't. Economic is often about what we can clearly see, and yet it is understanding what we can't see that gives us true insight. We start with a collection of facts that we can see and then begin a thought exercise to find the implications.

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  • The Statistical Recovery, Part 2

    A few weeks ago I first used the term 'statistical recovery' to describe the nature of today's economic environment. Today we are going to further explore that concept, as it is important to have a real understanding of what is happening. This coming 'recovery' is not going to feel like a typical one, and those expecting a 'V'-shaped recovery are simply making projections from previous economic recoveries, which, based on the fundamentals, are not warranted. And of course, a few thoughts coming back from Maine are in order. There is a lot to cover, and this may take more than one letter.

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  • The Statistical Recovery

    A lot of bullish commentators are talking about a recovery being in the works, and they may very well be right. But it is not going to look like any recovery worthy of the name. This week we look at what I will call The Statistical Recovery. But first, we take a look at what China is doing, as we continue our look at the rest of the world and ponder if it is time to brace ourselves for an extended bout of the Muddle Through Economy*. (And yes, there is an asterisk.)

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  • 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 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....