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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.)...
  • Deep Inside the Dow

    Tonight (Saturday) some 450 people will come together in San Diego to honor Richard Russell, who has been writing the Dow Theory Letter for over 50 years. In that spirit, in today's letter we are going to look deep inside the Dow, back to its very roots. The Dow is a price-weighted index as opposed to a cap-weighted index. Does that make a difference in performance? Specifically, does it affect how the Dow has performed since it was expanded to 30 names in 1928? There are some real surprises we have found, and I think you will find this letter very interesting.

    The Dow Industrials was expanded to 30 names from 20 on October 1 of 1928. Today, only nine names of the original 30 remain in the Dow. The committee at Dow Jones has replaced the other names as the companies grew out of favor, were merged into other stocks, were considered too small, or the committee felt that other companies better represented the industrial prowess of the US economy.

    ...
  • Why Bother With Bonds?

    Investors, we are told, demand a risk premium for investing in stocks rather than bonds. Without that extra return, why invest in risky stocks if you can get guaranteed returns in bonds? This week we look at a brilliantly done paper examining whether or not investors have gotten better returns from stocks over the really long run and not just the last ten years, when stocks have wandered in the wilderness. This will not sit well with the buy and hope crowd, but the data is what the data is. Then we look at how bulls are spinning bad news into good and, if we have time, look at how you should analyze GDP numbers. Are we really down 6%? (Short answer: no.) It should make for a very interesting letter....
  • 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....
  • The Law of Unintended Consequences

    Rules have consequences. And sometimes they have unintended consequences. If I told you that the US government was going to give multiple tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to hedge funds and private investors, you would justifiably not be happy. I think the word angry would come to mind. But that is exactly what is happening, as a result of rules that were written for a time and place seemingly long ago and far, far away. Further, we are looking at potentially much larger sums being lost in the bank bailout (can we say hundreds of billions?), a reduced lending capacity at banks and, in general, a worsening of the very problems at the core of the crisis. The good news is that it can be fixed, but the authorities need to get a sense of urgency. As Steve Forbes writes today in the Wall Street Journal, Obama is continuing with the worst of Bush's policies, making the crisis far worse than it should be. It is as if we are giving all 13-year-old kids a 'F' in math because one kid failed....
  • Buy and Hope Investing

    This week Professor Jeremy Siegel (author of Stocks for the Long Run) had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal showing that stocks are now cheap. I was on Tech Ticker, and Henry Blodgett challenged me about my e-letter last week, where I talked about how expensive stocks are. So which is it? We look at Professor Siegel's work -- and I let you decide. 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....
  • 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....
  • 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....
  • Forecast 2009: Deflation and Recession

    Where are we headed in 2009? We will explore that in detail over the next few issues of Thoughts from the Frontline, but today we will start with some of the larger forces which will have a major impact on the economies of the world, and I will end with my usual attempt to forecast the various markets. We will look at deflation, deleveraging, the fallout from the stimulus plans (note plural), housing, consumer spending, unemployment, and a lot more. There is a lot to cover. But first two quick announcements....
  • The Velocity Factor

    A severe global recession will lead to deflationary pressures. Falling demand will lead to lower inflation as companies cut prices to reduce excess inventory. Slack in labour markets from rising unemployment will control labor costs and wage growth. Further slack in commodity markets as prices fall will lead to sharply lower inflation. Thus inflation in advanced economies will fall towards the 1 per cent level that leads to concerns about deflation. Deflation is dangerous as it leads to a liquidity trap, a deflation trap and a debt deflation trap: nominal policy rates cannot fall below zero and thus monetary policy becomes ineffective. We are already in this liquidity trap since the Fed funds target rate is still 1 per cent but the effective one is close to zero as the Federal Reserve has flooded the financial system with liquidity; and by early 2009 the target Fed funds rate will formally hit 0 per cent. Also, in deflation the fall in prices means the real cost of capital is high - despite policy rates close to zero - leading to further falls in consumption and investment....