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Outside the Box

Geopolitics and Markets

July 24, 2014

Growing geopolitical risk is on everyone’s mind right now, but in today’s Outside the Box, Michael Cembalest of J.P. Morgan Asset Management leads off with a helpful reminder: the only time since WWII that a violent conflict has had a medium-term negative effect on markets was in 1973, when the Israeli-Arab war led to a Saudi oil embargo against the US and a quadrupling of oil prices. And he backs up that assertion with an interesting table of facts labeled “War zone countries as a percentage of total world… [population, oil production, GDP, etc.].”

Having gotten that worry out of the way, he takes on the dire warnings that have recently been issued by the BIS, the IMF, and even the Fed, about a disconnect between market enthusiasm and the undertow of global economic developments. (He gives this section the cute title “Prophet warnings.”) Let’s look, he says, at actual measures of profits and how markets are valuing them; and then he goes on to give us a “glass half-full” take on prospects for the US economy for the remainder of the year. He throws in some caveats and cautions, but Cembalest thinks we could finally see another 3% growth quarter this year, which could create room for further profit increases.

There are good sections here on Europe and emerging markets here, too. Cembalest gives us a true Outside the Box, with a more optimistic view than some of our other recent guests have had. But that’s the point of OTB, is it not, to think about what might be on the other side of the walls of the box we find ourselves in? I have shared his work before and find it well thought out. He is one of the true bright lights in the major investment bank research world. That’s my take, at least.

I write this introduction from the air in “flyover country,” heading back home from rural Minnesota. I flew to Minneapolis to look at a private company that is actually well down the road to creating hearts and livers and kidneys and skin and other parts of the body that can be grown and then put into place. It will not be too many years before that rather sci-fi vision becomes reality, if what I saw is any indication. This group is focused and has what it takes in terms of management and science.

When you hold the beating, pumping scaffolding for a heart in your hand and know that it will soon be a true heart – albeit for a test animal at this point, though human trials are not that far off – then you can well and truly feel that we are entering a new era. I declined to pick up a rather huge liver, but the chief scientist handled it like it was just another auto part. Match these “parts” with young IPS cells, and we truly will have replacement organs ready for us when we need them, if we can wait another decade or so (or maybe half that time for some organs!). My friend and editor of Transformational Technology Alert, Patrick Cox, toured the place with me and will write about it in a few weeks. (You will be able to see his complete analysis of this company for free in his monthly letter on new technologies. You can subscribe here.)

Ukraine and Gaza are epic tragedies, but gods, what wonders we humans can create when we pursue life rather than death. It just makes you want to take some people by the back of the neck and shake some sense into them.

And now a brief but enlightening tale from … The Road. It’s about the Code of the Road Warrior. The Road can be a lonely place, soul-searing in its weariness, with only brief moments of pleasure. But you have to do it because that is what the job requires. And there are lots of us out there. You see the look, you recognize yourself in the other person. If you can help, you do. It’s the unwritten Code that we all come to realize you must live by. It has nothing to do with race, religion, sexual alignment, or political persuasion. You help fellow Road Warriors on the journey.

As do we all, you seek out your favorite airline club in airports (for me it’s the American Airlines Admirals Club) and know you are “home.” A comfortable chair for your back, a plug for your tools, a drink to quench your thirst, and peace for your soul. But then there are the times when you are in an airport where there is no home for you.

Over the years, I have invited dozens of fellow Road Warriors to be my “guest” in a club. No true cost to me, just a courtesy you give a fellow Roadie. Today, I arrived at the Minneapolis airport, and there Delta and United rule. My companion, Pat Cox, was traveling on Delta back to Florida, so I thought I would see if my platinum card would get us into the Delta lounge. Turns out it would, but only if I was on Delta. I was getting ready to limp away to seek some other place of solace for a few hours when a fellow Road Warrior behind me said, “He is my guest.”

The lady behind the counter said, “That’s fine, but you can only have one guest.” Then the next gentleman looked at Pat in his Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops and said, “He is my guest.” The lady at the counter smiled, knowing she was faced with the Code of the Road Warrior, and let us in.

You have to understand that Pat is nowhere close to being a Road Warrior. He agrees with cyberpunk sci-fi author William Gibson that “Travel is a meat thing.” He indulged me for this trip. I will admit to being meat. I like to meet meat face to face when I can.

So Pat was somewhat puzzled, and he turned to our two benefactors and asked, “Do you know him?” (referring to me). Pat assumed they had recognized me, which sometimes does happen in odd places. But no, they had no idea. I told him I would explain the Code of the Road Warrior to him when we sat down, and everyone grinned at Pat’s astonishment over a random act of kindness. So we said thank you to our Warrior friends, whom we will likely never meet again, and entered into the inner sanctum. With electrical outlets.

The Road can be lonely, but many of us share that space. If you are one of us, then make sure you obey the Code. Someday, it will bring help to you, too. And as I write this, my AA travel companion on the flight back, an exec who runs a large insurance company, who was trying to figure out what the heck today’s court ruling might do to the 70,000 subsidized policies they sold, noticed I did not have the right connection and dug through his bag and found the right plug for me. It’s a Code thing. I knew him only as Ken, and he knew me as John. We then both hunched over our computers and worked.

Have a great week. And maybe commit a random act of kindness, even if you are not on The Road.

Your smiling as he writes analyst,

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box

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Geopolitics and markets; red flags raised by the Fed and the BIS on risk-taking

Michael Cembalest, J.P. Morgan Asset Management

Eye on the Market, July 21, 2014

You can be forgiven for thinking that the world is a pretty terrible place right now: the downing of a Malaysian jetliner in eastern Ukraine and escalating sanctions against Russia, the Israeli invasion of Gaza, renewed fighting in Libya, civil wars in Syria,…

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