It has long been my contention that we are entering an extraordinary period of time in which using historical analogies to plot market behavior is going to become increasingly problematical. In short, the analogies, the past performance if you will, all break down because the underlying economic backdrop is unlike anything we have ever seen. It makes managing money and portfolio planning particularly challenging. Traditional asset management techniques just simply may not work. Buy and hope strategies may be particularly difficult to navigate.
Part of the reason we are co challenged in our outlook is that we are experiencing a deleveraging on a scale in the world that is absolutely breath-taking in its scope. And to balance that, governments are going to have to issue massive amounts of sovereign debt to deal with their deficits. But who will buy it, and at what price? And in which currency? This week's Outside the Box gives us some very basic data points that illustrate the challenge very well. But the problem is that even though we can see the challenge, it is not clear what the final outcome will be, other than stressful volatility as the market reacts.
This week's OTB is by my good friends and business partners in London, Niels Jensen and his team at Absolute Return Partners. I have worked closely with Niels for years and have found him to be one of the more savvy observers of the markets I know. You can see more of his work at www.arpllp.com and contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week I came across two items that I think are worthy of being in Outside the Box, so I am going to give you both. The first is an essay by good friend Paul McCulley, Managing Director of PIMCO, called "Saving Capitalist Banking from Itself." The second is a recent speech by Paul Volker, former Fed Chairman and a (hopefully very) influential member of President Obama's economic advisory team. This speech is a must read. Taken together they provide a cautionary tale of what the world of banking will need to look like when we get to the end of the process. This OTB is a little longer than most, but I think it is important reading. If you don't know where we are headed, it is hard to imagine the journey.
I get a lot of newsletters from money managers around the country, which I try and read as they are written by people who are —in the trenches,— actually making decisions on behalf of their clients. It broadens my perspective. Frankly, most are not all that well written and unimaginative, but who ever said writing was easy? But some really strike a chord with me. Today's Outside the Box I have read twice, which is unusual for me. Cliff Draughn is a wealth manager in Savannah, Georgia (Draughn Partners) and a good friend. His letter is a wide ranging tome on a variety of topics, but is full of common sense and one that I think will resonate with readers. I trust you will enjoy this.
Yesterday I sent you an Outside the Box from Paul McCulley who supports the government and Fed activity (in general) in the current economic crisis. Today we look at an opposing view from Bennet Sedacca of Atlantic Advisors. He asks some very interesting questions like:
- Shouldn't the consumer, after decades of over-consumption, be allowed to digest the over-indebtedness and save, rather than be encouraged to take risk?
- Shouldn't companies, no matter what of view, if run poorly, be allowed to fail or forced to restructure?
- Should taxpayer money be used to make up for the mishaps at financial institutions or should we allow them to wallow in their own mistakes?
I think you will find this a very thought-provoking Outside the Box.
There is an ongoing debate on the current nature of the economic environment and what should the response be by government. Today's Outside the Box by Paul McCulley takes up one view, arguing that we need a federal response and stimulus package to protect the overall economy and save capitalism from itself. Tomorrow, I am going to send yet another view arguing that by doing so we are hurting the prudent investor and businesses that did not over-leverage and behaved responsibly. Both are important to understand. And as I will argue on Friday in my 2009 Forecast Issue, both are right. And that is one of the great economic paradoxes that we are faced with today. Navigating through this period is particularly challenging, but I think it is critical that you understand what Paul says today and what Bennet Sedacca will say tomorrow. Understanding what is going to happen, whether or not we agree with the philosophy behind it should be our goal, as it will make us better able to respond with our own portfolio and business decisions.
By the way, Paul McCulley, the Managing Director of Pimco, always features a "conversation" he has with his pet rabbit at the end of each year. Not only is it instructive, but it can also be downright funny. I think you will enjoy this letter a lot. And sorry about the Outside the Box coming later this week. We lost power for the day yesterday due to a mild ice storm here in Dallas.
This week I am really delighted to be able to give you a condensed version of Gary Shilling's latest INSIGHT newsletter for your Outside the Box. Each month I really look forward to getting Gary's latest thoughts on the economy and investing. Last year in his forecast issue he suggested 13 investment ideas, all of which were profitable by the end of the year. It is not unusual for Gary to give us over 75 charts and tables in his monthly letters along with his commentary, which makes his thinking unusually clear and accessible.
Gary was among the first to point out the problems with the subprime market and predict the housing and credit crises. You can learn more about his letter at http://www.agaryshilling.com. If you want to subscribe, you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get not only his 2009 forecast issue but an extra issue with his 2010 forecast (of course, that one will not come out for a year. Gary is good but not that good!)
I trust you are enjoying the holidays. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box.
The Big Three have a new customer, and it isn't you. As Detroit's former heavyweights fight for a slice of a $25 billion bailout package, more than humble pie is being eaten. If the automakers fail and take their companies into bankruptcy, Michigan as we know it ceases to exist economically. The trickle-down impact could rapidly become a waterfall: the seat supplier in Georgia loses three major customers. The factory worker who makes seats is out of a job. The bank who holds his mortgage takes another hickey. Commercial lending at that bank dries up. Ad nauseum. In the best of economic times, this would be a troublesome scenario. In today's economy, it's easy to see how policymakers are as worried about social stability as they are economics.
No astute person thinks that the Big Three will be able to return to the business practices of last year. And no intelligent investor should be trying to evaluate portfolio decisions the same way this year either. We have moved from the realm of finance to political economy, and for that you need a different set of tools and a different mindset.
I've enclosed an article by my friend George Friedman, the founder of global intelligence firm Stratfor. This is a fascinating, must-read piece that examines US policy options by looking at the Chinese as an example. The parallels are illuminating. I've stressed before the importance of reading Stratfor's intelligence in order to gain a clear understanding of the political and economic landscape you're investing in, but you need it now more than ever.
George has arranged a special offer just for my readers. And I'm excited to tell you that in addition to a Stratfor Membership, you'll also get a copy of his new book, The Next 100 Years.
Click here to take advantage of this special offer. You'll find George's new book as fascinating and insightful as Stratfor's daily work.
Exhale for a moment, forget your losses for the time being, and try to appreciate the fact that you're living through the single most important development in global finance since Bretton Woods. This is a "tell the grandkids about it" moment, when governments all around the world have essentially decided in unison that it's time to rewrite the rules, the very framework, in which financial transactions take place. Stock trading, interbank lending, commercial paper, the very concept of private sector ownership are all up in the air right now.
The only thing I can tell you with certainty is that if you try to evaluate your investments using the same metrics you've always relied on - P/E ratios, market share, interest rates, etc. - you're going to be as successful as a football-turned-baseball coach evaluating a pitcher by the number of touchdowns he throws. The rules are changing, gentle reader, changing at least for awhile from market-driven inputs to government-driven inputs. If you try to apply what you know from the "old game" without understanding that you're playing a "new game," the rules might not make sense.
I'm sending you today a piece from my friend George Friedman on how his company Stratfor looks at economics. More precisely, this piece explains how they look at Political Economy. And from here on out, it's political economy that's going to be driving markets. If the old rule was "Never fight the Fed." It's now, "Never fight the Fed. And the Treasury. And the ECB. And the Bank of England. And the Bank of Japan...." You get my point.
George has very kindly arranged for a special offer on a Stratfor Membership for my readers. I strongly encourage you to click here to take advantage of this offer. Now more than ever, you need the kinds of insights that you can't get from traditional finance sources. You need a wider lens, and there's no one better than George and his team at Stratfor at this kind of analysis. I know you'll find them as valuable as I do.
Your Taking-It-All-In Analyst,
Do government bailouts in times of banking crises work? Philippa Dunne & Doug Henwood of The Liscio Report highlight a major study of 42 fairly recent banking crises around the world. Result? Some types of government intervention works and some don't. One characteristic that is needed though is speed. Dithering, a la Japan, is a recipe for disaster. This is a brief summary of the report (to which they provide a link) and their conclusions as to the basic outlines of what the US should do. Given that Europe is already in the throws of its own bank crisis, and the rest of the world could experience problems, this should be useful reading. They also provide graphs of banking crises and comparisons with developed countries and the resulting market experience.
One major point? This is like the old Fram oil filter commercial line "Pay me now or pay me later." As this study points out, the tax payers and citizens of the US (and the world) are going to pay for this crisis in one way or another. Either a major recession (with high and persistent unemployment), reduced incomes and tax collections or a collective efforts to stabilize the banking system. The costs of inaction are much higher. It is not a matter of cost or no cost. We are going to have to pay in one form or another.
We cannot avoid the costs given where we are today. The time to avoid cost was years ago reigning in Freddie and Fannie and proper oversight of the mortgage industry. We (Congress) missed that opportunity. (Sadly, we are going to re-elect the very leadership to both parties largely responsible for the neglect. There is plenty of blame to go around. No amount of partisan finger pointing by Speaker Pelosi shifts that blame.) However, we can choose the form of the cost will be paid in. Personally, I prefer collective efforts to 10% or more unemployment and the risk of an extended recession and its costs. I know this is not pure free market theory, and sticks in the craw of many of my readers, but when many of my neighbors and friends will be unemployed and businesses are suffering theory will not make a very good meal. Congress must act now. This report is a good reminder of what has worked in the past.
My thanks to Philippa and Doug for allowing me to send this as a Special Outside the Box. You can see their work and blog at http://www.theliscioreport.com.
The purpose of Outside the Box is to present views which cause us to think through our basic assumptions. This week our old friend Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management gives us a view as to why the bailout bill going down may not be as bad as I think it might. There is much we agree on, however. And part of our agreement is that a deeper recession is in our future. Let me be clear. Muddle Through is now at risk.
I have talked with my publisher, and for the next few weeks of The continuing Crisis, we are going to send more than one OTB per week, and I may also add some short commentary. These are extraordinary times, and I know a lot of you (as I can tell from phone and emails) are worried and are interested in analysis that is not biased with either a perma-bull or perma-bear stance. I will call it as I see it, as always, and forward you material from my best sources.
That being said, we will get through this, one way or another. Sanity and clarity will return, as it always does after times of crisis. I wish you the best in your situation.
The weekend has brought us events that can only be described in large, over-the-top terms. The Fed agreeing to take equity on its balance sheet? How bad can things really be? Clearly much worse than most people thought last Friday. Moral Hazard has been re-introduced as Lehman is allowed to go down. I will admit to being surprised. I thought Paulson and Bernanke would put it in the too big too fail category. I think they did the right thing by refusing taxpayer money for a bailout, but it is clearly going to roil the credit markets for weeks and months. It will be interesting to see how long it lasts.
I am in La Jolla today, working with my partners at Altegris, and looking over their shoulders while they monitor the performance of some of our managers. Interesting times. But I have had the time to read two short but very interesting commentaries on the current crisis. I will have more to say on Friday, but for now let's read old friends (to Outside the Box readers) Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management (www.hcmmarketletter.com) and Barry Ritholtz of Fusion IQ (www.fusioniqrank.com).
As I send this, credit default swaps spreads are simply blowing out. I have been writing about how we would see significant problems in the CDS markets for almost two years. This is something that you could see coming yet nothing was done. I know we are now in crisis, but let's hope that the authorities learn some lessons and put in place some sensible regulations of the CDS market soon. And for the love of Pete (insert your favorite expletive here) put these (more expletives) things on a regulated exchange.
And I agree with Michael below. This is not a time to try and catch a falling knife. That time will come, but not yet. And remember things will get better and we will get through this. As I just said to Barry, "We do live in interesting times."
This week we turn to Michael Lewitt of HCM Capital for a very insightful letter on the current credit crisis. As I wrote on Friday, it is important for anyone with any involvement in the financial world to pay attention to what is going on in the credit markets. I think it is going to have far more impact than most observers apparently believe.
Michael E. Lewitt is the Managing Member and President of HCM (Hegemony Capital Management). You can read his letter at www.hegcap.com.
I should note that readers will get a second Outside the Box tomorrow morning. We have never done this, but there are just two very good letters in my box demanding to be shared. I think readers will approve the extra material this one time. I am sure you will appreciate Michael's work.