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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  • The Elements of Deflation

    As every school child knows, water is formed by the two elements of hydrogen and oxygen in a very simple formula we all know as H2O. Today we start a series that starts with the question, What are the elements that comprise deflation? Far from being simple, the "equation" for deflation is as complex as that of DNA. And sadly, while the genome project has helped us with great insights into how DNA works, economic analysis is still back in the 1950s when it comes to decoding deflation. Notwithstanding the paucity of understanding we can glean from the dismal science, in this week's letter we will start thinking about the most fundamentally important question of the day: is inflation, or deflation, in our future?

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  • Dr. Frankenstein’s Europe

    "Had I right, for my own benefit, to inflict this curse upon everlasting generations? I had before been moved by the sophisms of the being I had created; I had been struck senseless by his fiendish threats; but now, for the first time, the wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at the price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race."

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  • Is That Recovery We See?

    The market, we keep hearing and reading, is telling us that there is recovery around the corner. And pundits point to data that seems to suggest the worst is behind us. The leading economic indicators, while still down significantly, seem to be in the process of bottoming. There is a large amount of stimulus in the pipeline. Mark-to-market has been modified. Housing seems to be finding a bottom, if you look at the rise in sales from January. And so on.
    In this week's letter, we look at what past recoveries have looked like in terms of corporate earnings; and we look at the continued slide in earnings on the S&P 500, which has a negative price-to-earnings ratio looming in future months (yes, that is not a typo, we have an unprecedented earnings multiple). We take a peek at housing and foreclosures. There is just so much bad news out there (like continued unemployment) that it just has to get better, doesn't it? This should make for an interesting letter....
  • 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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  • 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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  • 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....
  • The Trend May Not Be Your Friend

    Two weeks ago I presented my thoughts on the current economic situation at my 6th Annual Strategic Investment Conference in La Jolla (co-hosted with Altegris Investments). The speech was well-received, at least to judge from the comment forms. So this week and next, we are going to revisit that talk (with a few edits). Let's start with a little set-up to explain the first few paragraphs.

    My speech was Saturday morning. On Friday, I wore a nice grey suit with a Leonardo tie. For those who know about Leonardo's, they are 'statement' ties. I should note that Tiffani picked the tie out for me about ten years ago and persuaded me to wear it. It took some getting used to. It is 16 silk-screened colors, bright blues and pinks and grays, the central feature of which is a very vivid parrot. It is not subdued.

    When my good friend George Friedman of Stratfor gave his speech on Friday, he commented rather derisively about my taste in ties, which got him a few laughs. This did not bother me too much since, while George is a brilliant geopolitical analyst, his sense of sartorial style is not exactly top-drawer. So now, let's jump into the speech....
  • The Problem With Indexes

    Introduction This week we look at index funds, and specifically at the problems that the certain types of capitalization weighted index funds have. It is intuitively obvious that capitalization weighted indexes have a larger proportion of their assets...
  • Fingers of Instability

    Introduction "To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown - the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states...
  • 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 Bernanke Era

    Introduction The King is going. Long live the King. We now know that Ben Bernanke will be the next Fed Chairman. His approval by the Senate is as close to a lock as you can get. This week we focus on Bernanke, and specifically his most famous, and what...
  • This Time It's Different

    Introduction "For over ten years now, a wide majority of market strategists and economists from respected investment banks (Morgan Stanley, Dresdner...), a large number of upscale financial publications ( The Economist, The Financial Times... ),...
  • The Fed Targets Your Home

    Introduction What is the relationship between housing prices and stock market forecasting? What will happen if the housing market begins to falter? Exactly what did Greenspan say about housing at Jackson Hole? We explore these topics and a whole lot more...
  • The Bottomless Well

    Introduction Today we begin what will be an intermittent series on oil and energy. Each and every year there is a need for more and more energy of all kinds. The one thing we can say with confidence is that energy demand and usage in the next 20 years...
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  • The End of Medicine

    Introduction This week we look at a very intriguing new book by good friend Andy Kessler called The End of Medicine , subtitled "How Silicon Valley (and Naked Mice) Will Reboot Your Doctor." As long-time readers know, Andy ran a high-tech hedge...

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