This week I am at a conference in Houston. I must confess that I don't attend many of the sessions at most conferences where I speak. But today, the guys at Streettalk Advisors have such a great lineup that I am there for every session. But it's Friday and I need to write. The solution? This week you get a "best of" letter. The best ideas I've heard and the best charts I've seen at this conference. Then we close with two short but very thoughtful essays from Charles Gave and Arthur Kroeber of GaveKal on "The Morality of Chinese Growth." Lots of charts and something to make you think. Should be a good letter.
25 posts tagged with “Oil”.
As I mentioned last Monday night in my Outside the Box, I did not make it to Turks and Caicos, but did end up in Baton Rouge for a special seminar on the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill. I have both good news (or maybe more like less-bad news) and bad news. Today's letter is a report on what I learned.
The conference was sponsored by the Global Interdependence Center (GIC - http://www.interdependence.org/). David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors organized the event with help from people from Louisiana State University. The quality of the speakers was outstanding. They were extremely knowledgeable and well-connected. The meeting was conducted under the Chatham House Rule, which means all the speakers spoke off the record, unless they indicated otherwise. This allows for a more frank discussion. So, much of what you will read from me is my impressions of what I heard, which I cannot attribute to specific speakers. Indeed, some would be at some occupational risk if I did so.
Some of what I write today will be controversial to some readers. That is a risk I will take, as the large majority will find this interesting, or at least I hope so.
Sometimes I feel so low-down and disgusted
Can't help but wonder what's happenin' to my companions,
Are they lost or are they found, have they counted the cost it'll take to bring down
All their earthly principles they're gonna have to abandon?
There's a slow, slow train comin' up around the bend.
- Bob Dylan
The question before the jury is a simple one, but the answer is complex. Is the US in a "V"-shaped recovery? Are we returning to the old normal? A great deal hinges on the answer, and this week we look at some of the evidence before us.
But first, a follow-up thought to last week's letter. I wrote about why countries can reduce their private debt, reduce their public debt, or run a trade deficit, but not all three at the same time. If a country wants to see its government run a fiscal surplus (or small deficit) and at the same time its private citizens want to reduce their leverage (common desires throughout the developed world), it must run a trade surplus. That's a simple accounting statement. If you did not read last week's letter, you can get to it by going here.
That brings up the deepwater gusher in the Gulf. That it is an unmitigated disaster is an understatement. There is the possibility of the oil getting into the Gulf Stream and going around Florida and landing upon the Atlantic coast. We will be cleaning this up for years.
I am at the moment on a plane to Italy, but if memory serves me right, we run about a $300-billion-dollar trade deficit just in energy purchases. Our trade deficit has been coming down in most other categories but is fairly steady with respect to oil. And as noted above, if we want to get to a place where we are in control of our government deficit, we must reduce that trade deficit.
Bluntly, we cannot hope to balance the fiscal budget without getting a handle on our energy policy (unless consumers and business elect to go into more debt against the current trend - there must be an accounting balance!)
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.
Along with my partners Altegris Investments I will be co-hosting our 6th annual Strategic Investment Conference in La Jolla, California, April 2-4. I have invited some of the top economic minds in the country to come and address us, giving us their views on what seem to be a continuing crisis. It will be a mix of economic theory and practical investment advice. Already committed to speak are Martin Barnes, Woody Brock, Dennis Gartman, Louis Gave, George Friedman (of Stratfor), and Paul McCulley. I anticipate adding another stellar name or two. This is as strong a lineup as we have ever had, and on par with any conference I know of anywhere.
Due to securities regulations, attendance is limited to qualified high-net-worth investors and/or institutional investors. Early registrants will get a discount. Last year we had to close registration, and I anticipate we will run out of room again, so I would not procrastinate. Simply click on the link below, give us your name and email, and you will be sent a form next week to register.
There are things in today's markets that are simply astounding. They should not exist, yet they do. Why should US bills trade at negative interest? How can oil be trading at all-time highs in terms of spreads over the next year? Bank debt and bonds are trading at discounts not to be believed. Want some free money? I show you a trade that gives you (almost) just that. Fed funds at zero? Are we starting to push on a string? We'll cover all this and more in this week's letter.
But first a quick commercial. Not all money managers and funds have had losses this year, even though it may seem like it. My partners around the world can introduce you to some alternative funds, commodity funds, and managers which you might find of interest as you rebalance your portfolio at the end of this year. You owe it to yourself to check them out.
If you are an accredited investor (net worth over roughly $1.5 million), you should check out my partners in the US, Altegris Investments (based in La Jolla) and my London partners (covering Europe), Absolute Return Partners. If you are in South Africa my partner there is Plexus Asset Management. You can go to www.accreditedinvestor.ws and fill out the form, and someone from their firms will be in touch. All three shops specialize in alternative investments like hedge funds and commodity funds, on a very selective basis. We will soon be announcing new partners in other parts of the world. And if you are an advisor or broker, you should call them (or fill out the form) and find out how you can plug your clients into their network of managers.
"It will therefore be crucial that you see the world anew. That means looking from the outside in to reanalyze much that you have probably taken for granted. This will enable you to come to an understanding. If you fail to transcend conventional thinking at a time when conventional thinking is losing touch with reality, then you will be more likely to fall prey to an epidemic of disorientation that lies ahead. Disorientation breeds mistakes that could threaten your business, your investments and your way of life."
-- James Dale Davidson and Lord William Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual, 1997
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.
As I will be moving my home this weekend, I am writing this letter early. I am going to use material from two previous letters, which I think will help give us perspective. The first is a personal anecdote from last Thanksgiving (2007), as a lead-in to comments on whether the Fed's latest monetizing action will end up spurring inflation; and then the second is part of an essay I did for my last book, Just One Thing, edited and updated.
This week we look at the housing market in some detail. When can we expect it to turn around? Part of the problem is that a new wave of foreclosures is coming due, and this time it is not subprime. And that means more problems for the large financial companies. Also, as predicted here, consumer spending is taking a hit as consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to get credit and a deteriorating labor market is dragging down total spending. There are some very interesting details in the data that was released this week. And we take a quick peek at the outlook for inflation. What is in the pipeline, so to speak? It should make for an interesting letter.
But first, it is finally time to make a very special announcement. Readers are aware that we have been asking you to take a survey on your financial and personality profiles. We are grateful for your response. Tiffani said that she has that nervous/excited feeling you get right before a long-anticipated moment that makes your heart race a little faster. In early summer of next year, we will be releasing our first book written together, to be called Eavesdropping on Millionaires.
The data we are getting is simply amazing. I have seen nothing like it. And to make it more than just a book of numbers, over the next few months Tiffani and I will spend countless hours interviewing millionaires about their personal journeys, philosophies, investments, business successes and woes, lessons learned, families and lifestyles. So far, we have had over 1,000 millionaires (net of their homes) volunteer for the interview. This is the fun part! Listening and exchanging life stories with other people has to be one of the most satisfying and connecting joys of our lives. We plan on doing a series of books, so these interviews will go on for the next year, at the very least.
"The stock market is a voting machine in the short run and a weighing machine in the long run." - Benjamin Graham
The voting part of the equation is tempered by fear and greed. It is largely emotional, although investors like to think of themselves as rational players. That emotion is driven by views of the future. If you can be confident of large and growing returns, you are less likely to be swayed by the erratic movements of a stock. But as confidence wanes? Well, that is the stuff that bear markets are made of.
Because at the end of the day, what the market weighs is earnings and the ability of a company to reliably produce them. This week we look at what earnings are likely to be over the next year and see if we can discern what that suggests for the markets. We also take a look at the energy markets, the possibility of a further drop in the price of oil, and muse on what a sane energy policy for the world would look like. There is a lot to cover, but it should make for an interesting letter.
President Nixon instated price controls on the 15th of August, 1971. Inflation was a little over 4% at the time. Price controls manifestly did not work (resulting in shortages of all sorts and a deep recession) and were rescinded a few years later. President Ford went to Congress with programs to fight inflation that was running closer to 10% in October of 1974, with a speech entitled "Whip Inflation Now" (WIN). He famously urged Americans to wear "WIN" buttons. That policy too was less than effective, and the buttons, in a history replete with silly gestures by governments, should stand on anyone's top ten list of such silly gestures.
Cynics more thoughtfully wore the buttons upside down and said the inverted letters (which looked like NIM) stood for "No Immediate Miracles." They were right. There was no miracle, just eventual pain and lots of it. Ultimately, Paul Volker defeated inflation, but at the cost of two serious recessions and a lot of economic misery, with unemployment levels over 10% for nine months in 1983.
This week we were given the data that inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the last year was 4.2% and unemployment is now 5.5%. Some call for the Fed to raise rates so that we do not have to experience another lost decade like the '70s and then ultimately see some future Volker forced to raise rates and drive unemployment back to 10%. Others suggest that "core" inflation is what should be paid heed to, and urge caution.
This week we look at the cost of what could be a renewed effort to Whip Inflation Now, not just here but in countries worldwide. Will Trichet in Europe raise rates even as the European economy seems to be slowing down? If you think inflation is bad in the US and Europe, take a peek at Asia. And I ask, "What will Ben do?" It should make for an interesting letter.
I remember in the summer of 2006 I would face my blank computer screen on a Friday and wonder, what I could write about? The media was all Goldilocks, all the time. Today, there is such a target-rich environment. I could probably write three letters a week, there is so much happening that is worthy of our attention. The problem today is trying to decide what not to write about, which means I get emails from readers wondering why I don't mention their areas of particular interest. But at eight pages, I just have to stop. You need a break!
Today, we have to look at the unemployment numbers, and the connection between the credit crisis and the rise in oil of about $16 dollars a barrel in just two days! If there is still room, the dollar is certainly being pushed and pulled by central bankers, who are also worried about inflation. And I doubt we will have room to cover what is a very important rise in inflation in Asia. It is all connected. (And you HAVE to look at the picture of my daughter and associate Tiffani at the end of the letter. Too much fun!)
But first, a quick note. I will be in Las Vegas July 10-12 for the annual Freedom Fest Conference, where I will speak several times, and the line-up of speakers is as strong as for any conference I have ever been to: Denish D'Souza will debate Christopher Hitchens; and Steve Forbes, Ron Paul, Stephen Moore (Wall Street Journal), Charles Murray, George Gilder, John Goodman, and about 100 other speakers, each impressive in their own right, will be there, as will 1,500 freedom-loving attendees. You can go to http://www.freedomfest.com/promo.htm and click on the list of speakers to register. Mark Skousen is the driving force behind the conference, and he does it right. I hope to see you there.