China has long been a mystery to foreign investors. Deeply involved in trade and commerce since the ancient days of the Silk Road, China has continued to maintain the appearance of closed economic borders and, even past these hardened gates, undeniable risk. Like any investor, you've probably been tempted to look at the prospects, and you've probably been met with a barricade of warnings about corruption and internal strife that quickly bounces you away. In the case of this sleeping dragon, knowing isn't half the battle, the battle is in knowing.
I want to share with you my source for what is really going on globally - I get it from my friends at STRATFOR. They've got a unique way of measuring past events and analyzing geopolitical foundations to project the future. It's not investment advice - it's the geopolitical information you need to understand a region before you evaluate any investment opportunities.
This week I'm including an article with STRATFOR's take on recent developments in Chinese banking restructuring. Give it a read and sign up for their free intelligence reports here.
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. His track record in this decade has been quite good. I want to thank Gary and his associate Fred Rossi for allowing us to view this smaller version of his latest letter.
If you are interested in his letter, his web site is down being re-designed, but you can write for more information at email@example.com. If you want to subscribe (for $275), you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get the full 2010 forecast with price targets, but an extra issue with his 2011 forecast (of course, that one will not come out until the end of the year. Gary is good but not that good!) I trust you are enjoying your week. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box....
Today I am speaking at a local conference here in Dallas for my friends Charles and Louis Gave of GaveKal along with George Friedman of Stratfor, and get to finally meet Anatole Kaletsky. They graciously allowed me to send their latest Five Corners report as this week's Outside the Box. I find their research to be very thought-provoking as they are one of the main sources of optimism in my ususal readings (except for their very correct and profitable views on the European debt of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, [Ireland?], Greece and Spain).
The GaveKal team is scattered all over the globe (and based in Hong Kong), and make my paripatetic travel schedule seem small change, not only being in scores of countries but talking to the movers and shakers in both finance and politics. This is an amazing advantage in information gathering. Thus they have a very global view of the world and tend to spot trends before most analysts have picked up on them.
Have a great week as we go into the Holiday season (and can you believe the prices on electronic stuff this year?).
Today's Outside the Box comes to us from England. My European partner Niels Jensen from time to time sends me some of the best letters he reads from the hedge fund world. He is an excellent filter for me, and this week's Outside the Box offering is no exception. Below is the November commentary from Eclectica fund manager Hugh Hendry. He challenges the current preoccupation with the falling dollar and China, and posits what would happen if that thinking is wrong? It offers some very thought-provoking ideas. You can contact them for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website: http://www.eclectica-am.com
Your wondering if we are all turning Japanese analyst,
Today I offer you an insightful look at China's real estate market - a "burgeoning bubble" that deserves a close eye as the possibility for breaking increases. Remember the chaos in Japan after their own housing dreamscape got violently yanked back to earth? As investors, we have to recognize opportunities - and know what to avoid. With a global economic crisis - and now surging housing prices in China - investors in any global market need to keep watch on political and economic developments around the world.
Today's analysis comes courtesy my friends at STRATFOR, a global intelligence company. They provide unique and on-the-money analysis and forecasts on all things global, essential for any alternative investment strategy. They've got a free newsletter as well, for which I encourage you to sign up by clicking here - so you're not limited to my caprice.
We all know that a large wave of Baby Boomers in the US are approaching retirement. But what about the rest of the world? And what happens when those retirees need to spend out of savings? There is more than just a credit crisis and a government deficit crisis in our future. A rising level of retirrees to workers is happening even as I write. And the US is not, for once, the center of the problem. As this week's writer of your Outside the Box Niels Jensen explains, we cannot all export our way out of the problem. There is a global adjustment that must happen and when it does, it will have serious consequences for all. This week's letter is guaranteed to make you think. Set aside a few minutes to do so.
Niels Jensen is the Senior Partner of Absolute Return Partners based in London. 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 email@example.com.
Recently I had a discussion with a colleague about university athletes. I was previously unaware that NCAA colleges set up guidance programs that develop the well-roundedness of student athletes. 'Life coaches' ensure that these individuals balance their rigorous athletic commitments with personal and academic accomplishments. I'm not judging your ability to run a mile or catch a football, but well-roundedness is an element to being successful - whatever your area may be.
To be a solid investor, it's important to consider a variety of markets, and you must be well-informed in a myriad of sectors. This is where having the best information comes in, and one of the better places for intelligence is STRATFOR. They offer a straightforward recipe of news about global affairs - causes, outcomes and what to expect next based on a rational, time-tested methodology.
I'm including a STRATFOR report that discusses the possibility of gasoline import sanctions against Iran. It's an absolute must-read for anyone interested in energy, foreign relations, Russia, the Middle East, etc. I'd encourage you to sign up for their free weekly reports here, so you aren't limited to what I send you on occasion. Begin (or continue) your journey to well-roundedness... Now, get to the line and practice your free throws.
There is a debate in academic circles on the lessons of the current economic crisis. While most ivory tower debates are of little concern to our daily affairs, this debate should concern you, as it will inform those who hold central bank and political power. Remember, there is no playbook of rules for what to do in deflationary, deleveraging recessions. They are making it up as they go along.
Today we have a short essay by Niall Ferguson published last week in the Financial Times. It speaks for itself, and you should take a few minutes to read it.
One of the first things you learn about analyzing a company is how to dissect a balance sheet. What assets and liabilities can be deployed by a company to create equity over time? I've enclosed a fascinating variant on this process. Take a look at how STRATFOR has analyzed the "geographic balance sheets" of the US, Russia, China, and Europe to understand why different countries' economies have suffered to varying degrees from the current economic crisis.
As investors, it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that can provide us profitable opportunities, and it's precisely this type of outside-the-box thinking that makes STRATFOR such an important part of my investment decision making. The key to investment profits is thinking differently and thinking earlier than the next guy. STRATFOR's work exemplifies both these traits.
I've arranged for a special deal on a STRATFOR Membership for my readers, which you can click here to take advantage of. Many of you are invested in alternative strategies, but I want to make sure that you also employ alternative thinking strategies. So take a look at these different "country balance sheets" as you formulate your plans.
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 (for $275), you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get not only his recent 2009 forecast issue with the year's investment themes, 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 your week. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box....
And if you have cable and get Fox Business News, I will be on Happy Hour tomorrow Tuesday the 17th at 5 pm Eastern. Have a great week.
When I read the headline, "China: Exports Drop," plastic toys, cheap sneakers and milk scandals come to mind. But the impact of China's financial health is more far-reaching than simply affecting the Wal-Mart consumer; China matters on a global investing stage. So that's why I don't just read headlines; I read STRATFOR. My friend George Friedman's team of analysts will take the numbers and explain to me what they mean and how they impact the country, without bias or partisanship. They don't make value judgments, they outline the full financial picture so I can make my own.
Understanding China is critical to anyone with investments. In the following piece, STRATFOR graphically presents the decline in exports in a historical context, and outlines other critical measurements in the Chinese economy -- giving me the frame of reference I need. I highly recommend that you start reading STRATFOR for this kind of focused analysis. George has kindly arranged a special offer just for my readers: a full year of Membership for just $199. Click here to take advantage of this offer today.
I read STRATFOR because I only want to know what's important and why.
One of my most significant learning experiences came from a basic forecasting mistake. Back in 1998, I looked at 40 years of documented evidence that 50% of all large programming projects ended up coming in late. That set of data was consistent over all industries and over decades. I checked it out with industry experts. I really did my homework. And thus I said that the Y2K bug would be a problem, as a sufficient number of corporations around the world would have bugs that would create supply and management problems, which would slow the economy down. I did not suggest that we would see blackouts or major problems, just enough to slow things down and, when coupled with other macro issues (like the tech bubble), could trigger a recession. We had the recession, so my investment advice actually turned out to be right (lucky?), but it was not caused by Y2K.
Almost 100% of the Y2K fixes came in on time. From a metric that said 50% was the norm, we went straight to 100%. What caused the change? I had a debate with (my good friend) the late Harry Browne, who many of you will remember as a very wise investment counselor, multi-book best-selling author, two-time presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, gold bug, and from the school of Austrian economics. He said that Y2K would be a non-event. When presented with my marshaled facts, he said, "John, each company will figure out what it has to do to survive. That is the way markets work." And sure enough, faced with extinction if they failed, it seems that CEOs found ways to get the programmers to meet a very clear deadline. Besides knowing they fudged deadlines in the past, we now know if you hold a gun to their heads and give them resources, they can in fact perform.
Why this comment to open today's Outside the Box? Today we read a piece sent to me by my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal (and who will be at my conference in April). It is entitled "Where Will the Growth Come From?" It reminds us of the lessons that Harry gave me. Each person and company is responsible for their own part of the recovery. You can't rely on mass statistics, or you miss the important lesson in individual responsibility.
I don't think anyone can accuse me of being bullish the past few years. Interestingly, I get a lot of emails from people telling me the end of the world is coming, and deriding my longer-term optimism. They are convinced we are going into some deep national morass worse than the Great Depression (and such deflationary times will somehow make their gold go to $3,000!?!?). Yet they are working to make sure their own personal worlds are covered. I get no letters from people who are simply giving up. What company will keep a CEO who does not work hard to figure out how to keep the company alive? If you lose your job, do you not try and get another one or figure out how to make ends meet? Do you not put in extra hours to try and make your personal life or business or job better? Even if it is terribly difficult, the very large majority of people don't throw in the towel. Each of us, in our own way, gets up every morning to fight the good fight, even when the swamp is full of more alligators than we ever counted on. We just pick up a baseball bat, wade into the swamp, kill as many alligators as we can in one day, and then go home to get ready to fight the next day.
The lesson from Harry is the same as it was in 1998: It is the individual working to get his or her own house in order that will help us all collectively get our national house in order. This is not to diminish the Herculean tasks we have in front of us, collectively. We have dug ourselves into a very deep hole of credit and leverage. It is going to take lots of time. The way back is not entirely clear at this point. This is not an ordinary business-cycle recession. But each of us will do what we can to make our small corner of the world better. And in the fullness of time, we will collectively get back to trend growth and a rational market.
Of course, we will then find we have other problems to face. There is no nirvana. There will always be more problems. But that's what a free-market collection of motivated individuals does: We face problems and solve them to the best of our ability. And as a group, the clear path for centuries is one of growth and progress. Cautious optimism is the proper long-term stance.
So, today Louis speculates about what sectors might come back first, and offers a good lesson in economics along the way. I think you will enjoy this Outside the Box, unless you just want to believe in the end of the world.
This week I bring you two different articles as an offering for Outside the Box. As a way to introduce the first, let me give you the quote from Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg about the rising threat of global trade protectionism:
"The Financial Times weighs in on the rising threat of global trade protectionism in today's Lex Column on page 14 ("Economic Patriotism"). The FT points out that the stimulus packages of many countries include "buy local" provisions. At home, there is a proposed inclusion of a 'Buy American' provision in the economic recovery package and this could set off trade retaliation from importers of US goods. Here is what the FT had to say, 'It was trade protectionism that made the 1930s Depression "Great". Congress would do well to understand that it is in everyone's interest to keep trade open today.'"
I have long written that the one thing that could derail my Muddle Through (at least eventually) view point is a return to trade protectionism. Nothing could be more devastating to the hopes of a recovery. Nothing could more surely turn a recession into a depression, and a global one at that.
David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors notes the very real problem with Tim Geithner's written testimony, threatening China and calling the manipulators, clearly making the point that this is Obama's policy. I did not have time to touch last Friday on the dangerous policy if it is that and not just rhetoric, but David says everything I would want to say and does it shortly and eloquently.
Second, several people requested a chance to look at the actual paper I cited in last week's Thoughts from the Frontline by Nouriel Roubini and Elisa Parisi-Capone of RGE Monitor (www.rgemonitor.com) on how they come up with an estimated potential loss of $3.6 trillion dollars in the US financial system. It makes for rather grim reading, but they go sector by sector to show where the losses are coming from.
Tomorrow I will hold my first "conversation" with Ed Easterling and Dr. Lacy Hunt. To find out more about how to listen in and still get the half price discount for the rest of this week at http://www.johnmauldin.com/conversations. Just enter the code JM44 when asked. Have a great week.
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.
In times of crisis, those with psychological fortitude discover opportunities that most people miss. A friend of mine in Houston tells me of unending piles of tree limbs broken down by the hurricane. The homeowner laments his disaster; the tree trimmer and the roofer order a new Mercedes. Most of the world sees a Wall St. meltdown. Buffett takes the opening to deploy billions from his cash hoard. They're all seeing the same thing, but they're reacting differently based on different visions of the future.
I've included a piece today from my friend George Friedman over at Stratfor about the landscape the next US President will face. This article is a perfect example of why I rely on Stratfor for my geopolitical intelligence. The newspapers and other media do better or lesser jobs of telling me about what's happening right now. But that's not what an investor needs. What I need - and I recommend for you - is an analysis of what we're going to be facing. That's where George and his team absolutely excel.
For at least the next month, the public conversation is going to be completely dominated by the November election and the political maneuvering to address the financial crisis. There will be tremendous drama. There will be dizzying swings back and forth in emotions, expectations, and more than likely the markets. And if you focus on it, you'll miss the real opportunities to position yourself for the emergence. George has made a special offer on a Stratfor Membership available to my readers, and I strongly encourage you to click here to take advantage of this opportunity. Now is the time to get positioned for future opportunities, while everybody else is wallowing in the here and now.
China is all the rage for the next few weeks as the Olympics are going on. Many are calling this China's time to showcase itself to the world. I have a lot of friends and analysts who are big China bulls, believing that the next few years will see continued high growth in China, although less than the above 10% of the past few years.
In Outside the Box, we like to look at some contrarian analysis from time to time. Value Investor Vitaliy Katsenelson gives us some reasons why the outlook for China might not be so bright. This has implications for lots of markets that are driven by Asian demand.
Vitaliy N. Katsenelson, CFA, is a Director of Research at Investment Management Associates in Denver and teaches a graduate investment class at the University of Colorado at Denver. He is also the author of Active Value Investing: Making Money in Range-Bound Markets (Wiley 2007). Enjoy the essay.
This week I want to share with you one of the more important tools in my arsenal for keeping up with what is going on in the world. As I've told you before, George Friedman and his team at Stratfor are my go-to guys for geopolitical intelligence. Their insights into this facet of the world are simply without peer. Now I want you to see their Intelligence Guidance which they publish each Friday for the upcoming week; last week's edition is below.
The Intelligence Guidance is an internal document that guides their intelligence team for the upcoming week. It's not a forecast of what's going to happen (more on that in a minute) but a list of potential inflection points that bear close scrutiny. On a short term basis, these are the critical items that can move policy in one direction or another. I put this side-by-side with my calendar of Fed meetings, statistics releases, and earnings announcements to get a holistic picture of what's going to be driving markets and plan tactics. I highly encourage you to click here for a Stratfor Membership, at special prices available to my readers, and add Stratfor's Intelligence Guidance to your weekly thinking.
Now about that forecast. Stratfor is just about to issue their third quarter forecast, and you definitely want to incorporate this thinking in your strategic planning. Stratfor's past calls on everything from the Asian currency meltdown to China's internal problems have proven to be eerily prescient. And I should point out that they also provide a scorecard that makes it very clear where their calls have been off, too. The Quarterly Forecast is included free as part of your Stratfor Membership, so click this link for the special deals available to my readers and make sure that you don't miss out on this important look ahead.
No matter where in the world I am, in South Africa, in Europe, in La Jolla, there's one question I get asked over and over, "What about China?" And small wonder. The increasing impact of China in the last generation is just staggering and seemingly accelerating every day. If you're in the market for oil, minerals, arable land, equities or debt, you're bidding against Chinese government-sponsored entities with a $1 trillion warchest. And the list of markets where China is a key player grows every day. Bottom line: whether you're filling up your gas tank or trading credit default swaps, China's decisions impact your pocket book.
The only thing that's crystal clear about China is the need to look long term, at the underlying forces that don't change day by day. Nobody does this better than my friend George Friedman and his team at Stratfor. Their geopolitical focus filters out the noise in the popular press and concentrates on the real drivers behind national policy. This is especially critical for a market like China, where traditional financial statement analysis is impossible and profit motives just don't apply.
On Monday, George and his team are releasing the second in their series of Geopolitical Monographs, called The Geopolitics of China. I've received an advance copy of the report below, and it is today's Special Edition of Outside the Box. Click this link to take advantage of a special pre-release offer on a Stratfor Membership that George is offering just to my readers. Did you know that China is functionally an island? Want to understand China's strategy behind their sovereign wealth funds? Policy in Tibet and Darfur? Join Stratfor now. You'll get a whole year of Stratfor's insights, plus you'll get The Geopolitics of China and their other Geopolitical Monographs included free. You really don't want to miss out on this opportunity.
Look at the map below that shows how China is functionally an island. Fascinating. It's just one of the maps George uses to illustrate what makes China, China. I hope you find this report intriguing, and do take George up on his offer for a free copy of the entire series included with your Stratfor Membership.
The greyhairs among us remember the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973 and that economists of the time called it an "exogenous" shock to the system. For the first time, geopolitical events had a huge impact on world energy markets. All the financial models in the world got thrown out the window when OPEC simply said, "We won't sell at any price."
Since then, of course, geopolitics has been an integral topic for everybody that follows energy markets. And other commodities. And currencies. And debt and equity. In other words, the economists' distinction between "market factors" and "geopolitical events" has blurred into meaninglessness.
In this Special Edition of Outside the Box, we read an analysis from my friend George Friedman at Stratfor that I think you'll find very interesting on the geopolitical implications of oil at $130/bbl. George and his team are calling the beginning of a new era of global competition. The weapons now won't be the nukes of the Cold War or the suicide bombers of the post-9/11 world but rather exportable oil and food, and the huge piles of cash that come from exporting surpluses.
As a special consideration for my readers, you can follow this link to get a special Stratfor Membership package that includes several free books. The Stratfor team puts out what I consider the absolute best available geopolitical analysis for global markets, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this special offer. If you want to know more about China's economic muscle - and the major threats to their industrial base - or how Russia will be able to reassert its power via grains and oil, you need to become a Stratfor Member.
What countries are truly the have and have nots of the world? Good friend and business partner Niels Jensen of Absolute Return Partners suggests we look at the old equation in a new way? Food and energy resources may be at least part of the definition in the future. In this week's Outside the Box we continue a them I mentioned a few weeks ago: agricultural needs are going to be a new and important force in the world and when coupled with energy may shift the balance of power in the world in strange a different ways.
When, as Niels points out, Afghanistan poppy farmers are shifting to wheat farming, the world is truly a different place. I think you will find the research he has done to be truly worth a few minutes of your thinking time.
And as a preface, I was reminded a little while ago that a Financial Times headline story last Friday mentioned that China is buying African farmland and building massive amounts of railroads and infrastructure to get grains to the market. I have long been bullish on African farmland. This week's OTB will tell you why.