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Economic Analysis

Dare to Be Great II

Outside the Box

April 16, 2014

I can’t tell you how many thousands of hours I have spent, over the years, thinking about, reading about, and talking about how to be a consistently successful investor; but I can tell you this: I’m still working at it. And once in a while – less frequently as the years pass, it seems – I come across investment advice that strikes me as fundamentally strong, innovative, and worth assimilating.

I feel that way about today’s Outside the Box. It’s a client memo sent last week by Howard Marks,...

What’s the Frequency Zenith?

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

April 14, 2014

Yes. I have read it.

For the last couple of weeks those have been the five words I have used the most — by a country mile.

The second most-used five-word combination during that time has been “I know, what a tool.”

The subject to which the first group of words pertains is, of course, Michael Lewis’s new book, Flash Boys; and the second phrase refers to a certain president of a certain exchange, who made a complete fool of himself during the fierce media debate that has surrounded the...

Every Central Bank for Itself

Thoughts from the Frontline

April 12, 2014

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

– Mike Tyson

For the last 25 days I’ve been traveling in Argentina and South Africa, two countries whose economies can only be described as fragile, though for very different reasons. Emerging-market countries face a significantly different set of challenges than the developed world does. These challenges are compounded by the rather indifferent policies of developed-world central banks, which are (even if somewhat understandably)...

Risk On, Regardless

Outside the Box

April 9, 2014

When Gary Shilling was with us here last fall, he and I were feeling considerably more sanguine about the near-term propects for the US and global economies. In fact, I said about Gary that “that old confirmed bear is waxing positively bullish about the future prospects of the US. In doing so he mirrors my own views.”

In today’s excerpt from Gary’s quarterly INSIGHT letter, he tackles head-on the shift in sentiment and economic performance that has ensued since then. He steps us through the...

The Lions in the Grass, Revisited

Thoughts from the Frontline

April 5, 2014

“In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

“There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the...

Hollow Men, Hollow Markets, Hollow World

Outside the Box

April 2, 2014

I’m sitting in the British Airways lounge at Heathrow terminal 5, or in other words in my usual office, and trying to catch up on my reading. I was particularly intrigued by my good friend and economic philosopher Ben Hunt’s latest Epsilon Theory post, which he calls “Hollow Men, Hollow Markets, Hollow World.” As he points out, an increasingly smaller portion of trading in the markets is between individuals looking to actually own a fractional portion of a public company for the long term....

Fight Club

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

April 1, 2014

Sometimes the sand shifts beneath your feet without your realizing it. Other times you can see it happening.

In November 1975, at a summit meeting in the picturesque Château de Rambouillet near Paris, leaders of the six richest industrial powers gathered to form a rather exclusive, though completely informal, little club.
 

When Inequality Isn’t

Thoughts from the Frontline

March 29, 2014

“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”

–Plutarch, Greek historian, first century AD

“In the economic sphere an act, a habit, an institution, a law produces not only one effect, but a series of effects. Of these effects, the first alone is immediate; it appears simultaneously with its cause; it is seen. The other effects emerge only subsequently; they are not seen; we are fortunate if we foresee them.

“There is only one difference...

Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis

Outside the Box

March 25, 2014

Looking back, I see that I have mentioned the name Hyman Minsky in no fewer than ten Thoughts from the Frontline letters in just the past two years; and his name has popped up in all four letters so far this month, most notably on March 1, when we brought back one of my most popular pieces, “Black Swans and Endogenous Uncertainty” (the “sandpile” letter) and last week, when the letter was titled “China’s Minksy Moment?”

I wasn’t consciously aware of how often I had trotted Minsky out as I...

China’s Minsky Moment?

Thoughts from the Frontline

March 22, 2014

In speeches and presentations since the end of last year, I have been saying that I think the biggest macro problem in the world today is China. China has run up a huge debt, and the payments are coming due. They seem to be proactive, but will it be enough? How much risk do they pose for the global system?