Thoughts From The Frontline

This highly acclaimed blog is primarily focused on private money management, financial services, and investments. John Mauldin demonstrates an unusual breadth of expertise, as illustrated by the wide variety of issues addressed in-depth in his writings.

Thoughts From The Frontline

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  • Thoughts on the Continuing Crisis

    Thoughts on the Continuing Crisis Margin Clerks of the World, Unite! Where Do We Find New Sources of Credit? In Defense of Alan Greenspan What Now for Gold, Oil, Etc? Baseball, Mexico, and Travel Costs My essay in Outside the Box last Monday seemed to...
  • The Rise of A New Asset Class

    This week I am in Maine on vacation with my son, and next week is my daughter Tiffani's wedding, so for the next two weeks I am going to send an updated version of a speech I have been giving the past few months on what I think is the likely potential for the rise of a brand new asset class. It is too long to be sent as one letter, so we will start with the first part today and finish with the second part next week. This first part can be read as a standalone letter. I think we're at a watershed moment, what Peter Bernstein defines as an "epochal event," with the very order of the investment world changing as it did in 1929, in '50, in 1981, where a number of things came together - it wasn't just one thing but a number of events happening that conspired to change the nature of what worked in the investment world for the next period of time. It took most people a decade after 1981-2 to recognize that we were in a different period, because we make our future expectations out of past experience. It's very hard for us to recognize a watershed moment in the process. We're going to look back in five or ten years and go, "Wow, things changed." As we will see, it's going to be a change that's going to cost people in their portfolios and in their retirement habits....
  • The Financial Fire Trucks Are Gathering Again

    The economic news just continues to be bad. New unemployment claims were over 529,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis. The "real" number was 606,877 lost jobs. New home sales were off by another 5% and down 40% from a year ago, as builders slash inventories. The Chicago Purchasing Manager index came in at 33.8, the weakest number since the serious recession of 1982. The national number due next Monday will be just as ugly, as durable goods were down far more than expected, by a negative 6.2%. But it is Thanksgiving weekend, and not a time for gloom. In this week's letter I am going to talk about why we should be optimistic about the future. Things will turn around. I will also make a few comments about the latest stimulus package....
  • 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....
  • Is it a Bull, Bear or Cowardly Lion Market?

    Bull, Bear, and Cowardly Lion Markets Market Cycle Math Where Are We Today? Analyze and Strategize Switzerland and American Airlines Are we in a bull, a bear, or a cowardly lion market? As we will see, the answer can make a huge difference in your investment...
  • The Velocity Of Money

    The late and great Milton Friedman told us that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. But there is an asterisk to his equation that we need to examine, namely, the velocity of money. Sometimes a fast-growing money supply is not as inflationary as you might think. Then we will take quick looks at why the banking sector is in for more and larger rounds of write-offs, as well as note that the housing industry is in a hole but is gamely digging itself deeper....
  • Who's Afraid of a Big, Bad Bailout?

    Flying last Tuesday, overnight from Cape Town in South Africa to London, I read in the Financial Times that Republican Congressman Joe Barton of Texas was quoted as saying (this is from memory so it is not exact) that he had difficulty in voting for a bailout plan when none of his constituents could understand the need to bail out Wall Street, didn't understand the problem, and were against spending $750 billion of taxpayer money to solve a crisis for a bunch of (rich) people who took a lot of risk and created the crisis. That is a sentiment that many of the Republican members of the House share. As it happens, I know Joe. My office is in his congressional district. I sat on the Executive Committee for the Texas Republican party representing much of the same district for eight years. This week, Thoughts from the Frontline will be an open letter to Joe, and through him to Congress telling him what the real financial problem is, how it affects his district and help explains to his constituents the nature of the problem, and why he has to hold his nose with one hand and vote for it with the other. I think this is as good a way to explain the crisis we are facing this weekend. This letter will print out a little longer because there are a lot of charts, but the word length is about the same. Let's jump right in....
  • Here Comes Tarp 3 and 4

    What does it mean for Citigroup to be at $3? As it turns out, it distorts the information we think we are getting from the Dow Jones Industrial Index. And more TARP money is surely in our future, and far more than anyone in authority is now suggesting. This week's letter will cover both topics and a little more. I think you will find it interesting. Before we get into the letter, just two quick housekeeping items. First, I spend most of my week researching and writing. Part of that process is the ability to call friends and esteemed colleagues to discuss our different points of view about the present markets and economy. I have offered, for the first time, exclusive access for my readers to listen in on those conversations. The first "Conversation" will be with Dr. Lacy Hunt and Ed Easterling next Tuesday, and we will have it ready for subscribers to my new service shortly thereafter. This new subscription service will allow you to listen in on Conversations with me and my friends about the most critical financial and economic topics of the day....
  • Trading With the Big Boys

    This week we are going to do something a little different. I am in Bermuda taking a little weekend R&R after a speech, as well as working on my book. There is not the time for the usual letter this week, but I have asked Barry Ritholtz to write about his new trading program, FusionIQ, for reasons I will talk about below. Warning: This e-letter is about a new trading platform that I think is interesting. While not trying to be promotional, it will offer you a product at the end. As I write below, there is reason to think about what tools other are using when you are trading against them; but for those of you who are looking for economic analysis, skip this and wait till next week, when I am back in the office. For the rest of us, let's jump right in....
  • Kicking the Can to the End of the Road

    In This Issue:

    The Biggest Bubble of Them All
    Ireland is a Different Story
    Kicking the Can to the End of the Road
    Philly, Boston, Trequanda, Kiev, Geneva and London

    ...
  • 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 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.)...
  • Preparing for a Credit Crisis

    The Consequences of Austerity
    Euro Break-Up – The Consequences
    Welcome to the Hotel California
    The Slow March to Recession in the US
    Preparing for a Credit Crisis
    What Can You Do About the Weather?
    Europe, Houston, New York, and South Africa

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  • An Uncomfortable Choice

    We have arrived at this particular economic moment in time by the choices we have made, which now leave us with choices in our future that will be neither easy, convenient, nor comfortable. Sometimes there are just no good choices, only less-bad ones. In this week's letter we look at what some of those choices might be, and ponder their possible consequences. Are we headed for a double-dip recession? Read on.

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