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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  • Where Do We Go From Here?

    I have been writing for almost a year that the next shoe to drop on US banks would be commercial construction lending. Today we look at some hard numbers. We look across the pond to sort out the problems in Europe. We look at the consequences of the losses stemming from Lehman. Then we look at one of the more serious consequences of the banking crisis, one that will bring the crisis home to you. Finally, we look at what the various governments of the world must do in response. It may not be fun, but it should be interesting. And it is important. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone who asks why we not only need the bailout but will need even more coordinated government action....
  • Thoughts on the End Game

    When I was at Rice University, so many decades ago, I played a lot of bridge. I was only mediocre but enjoyed it. We had a professor, Dr. Culbertson, who was a bridge Life Master at an early age. He was single and lived in our college, playing bridge with us almost every night. He was a master of the 'end game.' He had an uncanny ability to seemingly force his opponents into no win situations, understanding where the cards had to lie and taking advantage.

    Traveling in London and on into Europe, I have some time to think away from the tyranny of the computer. Over the last year, and especially the last few months, I have written in depth about the problems we face all across the developed world. We have no good choices left, only hopefully choosing the correct unpleasant choice is now our option.

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  • Sell in May and Go Away

    The old adage that one should 'sell in May and walk away' has been around for years. I mentioned that bromide about this time last year, urging readers to head for the sidelines if they had not already done so. I was also suggesting a strategic retreat in August of 2006 (after which the markets went up 20% before plummeting). In this week's letter we look at the actual data and offer up a fresh viewpoint. Then we turn our eyes to the recent GDP numbers, which were awful, though many took comfort in the apparent rise in consumer spending. Are Americans back to their old ways? It will make for an interesting letter....
  • What Does Greece Mean to You?

    How does an event like a problem in Greece (or elsewhere) affect you, gentle reader? That is the question I was posed this week. I mean, down where the rubber hits your road. Not some formula or writing about the velocity of money or the effect of taxes on GDP. 'I want to understand why you think this is so important.' So that is what I will attempt to do in this week's missive, as I write a letter to my kids trying to explain the almost inexplicable.

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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....
  • 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....
  • The Endgame

    Deflation? Stimulus? Deleveraging? Recession? A soft depression? A return to a bull market? With all that is going on, how does it all end up? When we get to where we are going, where will we be? In chess, the endgame refers to the stage of the game when there are few pieces left on the board. The line between middlegame and endgame is often not clear, and may occur gradually or with the quick exchange of a few pairs of pieces. The endgame, however, tends to have different characteristics from the middlegame, and the players have correspondingly different strategic concerns. And in the current economic endgame, your strategy needs to consist of more than hope for a renewed bull market....
  • 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 Future of Public Debt

    Everyone and their brother intuitively knows that the current government fiscal deficits in the developed world are unsustainable. They have to be brought under control, but that requires some short-term pain. Today we look at a rather remarkable piece of research from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) on what the fiscal crisis may morph into in the future, how much pain will be needed, and what will happen if various countries stay on their present courses. Some countries could end up paying north of 20% of GDP just on the interest to serve their debt, within just 30 years.

    Of course, the markets will not allow that to happen, long before it ever gets to that level. And what makes this important is that this is not some wild-eyed blogger, it's the BIS, a fairly sober crowd of capable economists. We will pay some attention. Then I'll throw in another few paragraphs about Goldman.

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  • The Implications of Velocity

    This week we do some review on a very important topic, the velocity of money. If we don’t understand the basics, it is hard to make sense of the hash that our world economy is in, much less understand where we are headed.

    But before we jump into that, I want to let my Conversations subscribers know that we have posted a recent conversation with two hedge-fund managers, Kyle Bass of Hayman Advisors [and his staff] here in Dallas and Hugh Hendry of the Eclectica Fund in London. Our discussions centered on what we all think has the potential to be the next Greece, but on a far more serious level. It was a fascinating time.

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  • Buddy, Can You Spare $5 Trillion?

    There is no doubt that the US is in financial trouble. Those talking of a strong recovery are just not dealing with reality. But the US is in better shape than a lot of countries. This week, we begin by looking at Japan. I have written for years about how large their debt-to-GDP ratio is, yet they keep on issuing more debt and seemingly getting away with it. But now, several factors are conspiring to create real problems for the Land of the Rising Sun. They may soon run into a very serious-sized wall. And it is not just Japan. Where will the world find $5 trillion to finance government debt? We look at some very worrisome graphs. Those in the US who think that what happens in the rest of the world doesn't matter just don't get it. There is a lot to cover in what will be a very interesting letter. I suggest removing sharp objects or pouring yourself a nice adult beverage....
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile

    As I sit here on Friday morning, beginning this week’s letter, nonfarm payrolls have just come in at a blockbuster 295,000 new jobs, and unemployment is said to be down to 5.5%. GDP is bumping along in the 2%-plus range, right in the middle of my predicted Muddle Through Economy for the decade. US stocks are hitting all-time nominal highs; the dollar is soaring (especially after the jobs announcement); and of course, in response, the Dow Jones is down 100 points as I write because all that good news increases the pressure for a June rate hike. Art Cashin pointed out that, with this data, if the FOMC does not remove the word patient from its March statement, they will begin to lose credibility. The potential for a rate increase in June is back on the table, but unless we get another few payrolls like this one, the rather dovish FOMC is still likely to wait until at least September. Who knows where rates will be end of the day, though? Anyway, what’s to worry?

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  • The End of the World, Part 1

    What Is the CBO Seeing (or Smoking?)
    The End of the World, Part 1
    Who Will Rescue the Rescuers?
    The Problems of Debt in the Eurozone
    Thoughts on Jackson Hole
    Some Thoughts on Getting Older

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  • This Time is Different

    When does a potential crisis become an actual crisis, and how and why does it happen? Why did most everyone believe that there were no problems in the US (or Japanese or European or British) economies in 2006 and now we are mired in a very difficult situation. 'The subprime problem will be contained,' said now controversially confirmed Fed Chairman Bernanke, just months before the implosion and significant Fed intervention. I have just returned from Europe, and the discussion often turned to the potential of a crisis in the Eurozone if Greece defaults. Plus we take a look at the very positive US GDP numbers released this morning. Are we finally back to the Old Normal? There's just so much to talk about.

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  • Leverage Is an 8 Letter Word

    Leverage is an eight-letter word, which the markets now regard as twice as bad as the two four-letter words debt and pain (or fill in your own four-letter words). This week I try to give some insight into what is happening in the credit markets, some of it below the radar screen of most analysts. We will look at the potential for deflation and the Fed's response. There is a lot to cover, so let's jump right in. I talked with a friend who runs a collateralized loan obligation fund, or CLO. There are a lot of these funds in the Shadow Banking System. Typically they buy certain types of debt, with a lot of it in the bank loan space. In the old days of the last few years, banks would make loans to corporations and then sell them to CLOs and other institutions, making a spread on the loan and a profit on the servicing business. Some funds would typically leverage up somewhat and make a decent return....

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