This week we turn our eyes to Asia as my friend Louis Gave of GaveKal gives us a very thought-provoking piece on the problems of investing in Asia, with a focus on China. While there are real opportunities, Louis also sees some speed bumps. Those Asian ETFs may not be the winners a lot of people think for structural reasons.
I was to thank the team at GaveKal for letting me reproduce their research as typically it is only available to their clients who pay a rather hefty sum.
This has been a productive weekend book writing wise. I am down to finishing 2 chapters which are mostly written and two long flights to Vancouver in front of me. Then the hard part of re-writes but I can see the end of the race. Have a great week, and if you are in Vancouver be sure to say hello.
Your writing machine analyst,
Long time readers of Thoughts from the Frontline will be familiar with the name The Liscio Report. It is one of my "secret" sources of high quality analysis on a wide range of topics including taxes, employment and the underpinnings of the economic headlines that we read which can be so distorted. I say secret because they get nowhere near the attention their work deserves. Philippa Dunne & Doug Henwood, authors of The Liscio Report, do actual on the phone conversations with each of the various states on their tax collections, employment and so on. I find their primary research to be invaluable. Their real time proprietary research based on state withholding and sales tax receipts gives their clients a unique insight into the state of the US economy.
I have talked them into letting me send out their most recent letter, which I found very informative. While their work is not inexpensive ($7,500 annually), for hedge funds, banks, proprietary trading desks and those who need to know what is actually happening as opposed to whatever spin is being put out in the press, you should check them out at www.theliscioreport.com.
And before we jump into their report, I feel the need to comment on the revelations this last week about Lehman and what looks like can only be called fraud. How much more of this is going on? Regulators now have a road map to know what to look for. Auditors are now on notice that this lack of transparency and cooking the books at quarter's end must not be condoned.
And while we re on the topic of transparency, for God's sake, can't we get credit default swaps on an exchange before they blow us all up again? Please? Someone? Anyone? It's been two years. It's what brought Bear and Lehman down. Bluntly, the reason the banks oppose this is that the commissions for an OTC credit default swap are astronomical when compared to what will become a $10 commission on an exchange.
OK, I'll now stop my rant, and allow you to enjoy The Liscio Report. Have a great week.
This week I am in the office for just one day, but I can rely on my friend Dave Rosenberg to give us solid insight on the latest GDP numbers for this week's Outside the Box. Dave slices and dices to show us what really happened. David was the former Chief Economist at the former Merrill Lynch (ah, Mother Merrill, we barely knew ye.) and is now Chief Economist at Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc., which is one of Canada's pre-eminent wealth management firms. Founded in 1984, they manage $4.4 billion. David notes that the data gives us a mixed picture.
I am in Maine later this week. It is likely I will be on CNBC, as they will be shooting live from our fishing camp. Also, they plan to do a one hour special with a number of interviews. I will let you know when it airs. A quick note from me: The third quarter is likely to be positive, especially given the success of the "Cash for Clunkers" program which it looks like our Congress is going to pass another round of spending which taxpayers (our kids) will get to pay off, or more likely pay $50 million per years for decades in interest. Sigh. Essentially, we are moving up car sales today which would have been made later, except that if you can get someone else to make your down payment, why not make that purchase today? A very reasonable response on the part of the consumer.
A teaser from Dave's work below: "Consumer spending came in at -1.2% annualized, twice the decline expected by the consensus. This occurred in the face of gargantuan fiscal stimulus and leaves wondering how this critical 70% chunk of the economy is going to perform as the cash-flow boost from Uncle Sam's generosity recedes in the second half of the year. Imagine, government transfers to the household sector exploded at a 33% annual rate, while tax payments imploded at a 33% annual rate and the best we can do is a -1.2% annualized decline in consumer spending in real terms and flat in nominal terms? What do we do for an encore? In the absence of the fiscal largesse, it is quite conceivable that consumer spending would have shrunk at a 10% annual rate last quarter!"
This week I offer something unusual for outside the Box, in that I agree on almost all points with my friend David Rosenberg, except he tells it so much better than your humble analyst. David was the former Chief Economist at the former Merrill Lynch (ah, Mother Merrill, we barely knew ye.) and is now Chief Economist at Gluskin Sheff + Associates Inc., which is one of Canada's pre-eminent wealth management firms. Founded in 1984, they manage $4.4 billion. (For those who wonder, David left NYS to return home to Toronto. Much shorter commute time.) David looks at the recent stock market run-up, why he likes corporate bonds better than stocks, what is lagging with the consumer and a lot more. It is a very pithy read.
Have a good week, I am off to a beach in a few days, but there will be an e-letter this Friday. You are in good hands.
Your looking forward to reading with drinks with little umbrellas analyst,
Late last week a letter from Jim Welsh crossed my desk. I started reading and found myself being pulled through his very thoughtful letter. I have not met Jim, but think this letter is worthy of an Outside the Box.
Jim Welsh of Welsh Money Management has been publishing his monthly investment letter, "The Financial Commentator", since 1985. His analysis focuses on Federal Reserve monetary policy, and how policy affects the economy and the financial markets.
This week we visit some very thoughtful analysis by an old friend of Outside the Box, Dr. John Hussman of the Hussman Funds (http://www.hussmanfunds.com/index.html). Is the new PPIP program and related activities likely to help or hurt the situation? Will this help keep banks for bankruptcy or will it push the FDIC into insolvency requiring massive tax payer cash. This week's Outside the Box is brief, but poignant.
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.
One of the best gauges of an economy is tax collections. No one pays taxes unless they have to, so collections are a real-world, real-time analysis of the US economy. And the best source I know of for tracking taxes is The Liscio Report, by Philippa Dunne & Doug Henwood.
Tax collections are down. Philippa and Doug give us the actual numbers, which are not pretty. Bottom line? "What does this all mean? It suggests that the consumer retrenchment in this recession will be deep and long, and will probably continue into any recovery. The American consumer is no longer the world consumer of last resort, and that's an enormous change for both this country and the rest of the world to get used to."
You can learn more about the Liscio Report at www.theliscioreport.com. Enjoy your week.
There is a reason I call this column Outside the Box. I try to get material that forces us to think outside our normal comfort zones and challenges our common assumptions. And this week's letter from Hoisington Investment Management Company does just that.
Let me give you two quotes to pique your interest: "Monetary policy works by creating the environment for a renewed borrowing and lending cycle. This cycle would require that the debt to GDP ratio, which is already at a record level, grow even higher. Would such an outcome really be that desirable when the controlling problem of the U.S. economy is too much improperly financed debt? If the Fed were able to engender an increase in the debt to GDP ratio, this might merely serve to postpone the reckoning of the current debt levels while laying the foundation for an even more vicious unwinding down the road."
And: "The only really viable option for federal stimulus is a permanent reduction in the marginal tax rates, as highlighted in the research of Christina Romer, incoming Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors. This would have the benefit of raising after tax rates of return, but the drawback in the short run of still having to be financed by an increased budget deficit. Over time, a massive reduction in marginal tax rates would be beneficial, but the operative word is time. Refunds, or transitory tax relief, will have no better results in stemming the recessionary tide in 2009 and 2010 than it did in the spring of 2008."
Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar on the current bailout programs that is not the usual analysis we see in mainstream media. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort.
Hoisington Investment Management Company (www.hoisingtonmgt.com) is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the firm has over $4-billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies. And now let's jump right in to the essay.
Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? Research shows that more of us are putting it off in expectations of better prices. In other words deflationary expectations! The prices I have seen while out shopping the past few weeks are simply amazing. I have to admit to have made a few purchases for some items that I was not planning to buy just yet because prices were off by 60% or more. A few days ago a friend came in sporting a new black cashmere sweater top with jeweled embroidery and quite fancy. She said she got it at Saks. But the real story is that when she walked into Saks looking for a present for her kids they handed her a coupon with a 30% off any one item from whatever price it was already marked down. That top? At one point it was almost $500. She bought it for $75. I have to confess that made me worry about retail sales and future unemployment. I like low prices, but I like profitable companies and employment. I went and talked to a Saks salesperson a few weeks ago who had been there 25 years and asked if they had ever discounted like that before Christmas and he said never. It was Saturday in New York and the place looked busy. I asked why? And he said, "The store is empty during the week." And I bought a few sweaters at 60% off. Tiffani just got some presents from J Crew at over 60% off. Before Christmas! How many readers have seen the same sales? And yet shopping is down?
As a side note, this year most of the kids and in-laws are all going to get a Visa gift cards so they can take advantage of what I think are going to be even better sales after Christmas. It is not that Dad put off his shopping to the last minute (which I did) but the kids are really looking forward to finding their special items on sale. I wonder how many more are doing that?
This week we look at David Rosenberg's latest missive. While listing a number of negative data points, the thing to watch for is all the deflationary news. I have been pounding the table for YEARS that deflation is going to be the problem, and there would be massive stimulus from the Fed to fight it. We are now coming to that inflection point. Rosenberg is one of my favorite main stream economists and the North American Economist for Merrill Lynch. I would say enjoy this week's Outside the Box, but it is not enjoyable reading, but you should read it anyway.
Have a Merry Christmas. And enjoy the after Christmas sales! All the best,
This week we look at a short but excellent summary of the state of the current economic crisis. I always enjoy reading David Rosenberg, the North American economist of Merrill Lynch. He has a no-nonsense style that is refreshing from most mainstream economists. The reality is that things continue to deteriorate. Today's stock market action shows that we are not of the bear market woods just yet. Rosenberg gives us a few reasons why.
This week's Outside the Box is from my friends at Hoisington Management. While somewhat technical, they make the case that a slowdown in consumer spending is inevitable. This is worth taking some time and thinking about. Quoting: "This means that consumer spending increases should be approximately zero for the next three years. Further exacerbating the problem is the personal saving rate which declined from 5.2% in the decade of the 1990s to average 1.3% in the last seven years, and now stands at 0.3%. Should declining wealth, rising unemployment and poor economic conditions cause consumers to begin to save and lift the rate back to the 1.3% average of the past seven years, real consumer spending would experience a multi-year contraction."
If they are right, and the evidence of their research is compelling, then we are in for a much tougher time than the recent stock market rallies suggest. The stock market is not always a leading indicator. This week's letter suggests that businesses that depend on the US consumer for growth may be in trouble.
For the last few months in my regular letter I have been pounding the table that corporate earnings are going to decline this year, which is always a negative atmosphere for stocks. Since today is the beginning of the earnings season for the first quarter, I thought it would be helpful to look at this piece from our old friend James Montier, head of equity research at Societe Generale based in London. It seems that analysts are behind the curve when it comes to predicting future earnings. James shows us why and then goes on to demonstrate that even the meager earnings reductions that are projected are not priced into the market as many bullish commentators suggest. This should make for an interesting Outside the Box.
On Friday, I wrote my annual forecast, "The Goldilocks Recession," on what investment themes I expect in the coming year. This week's Outside the Box will follow up on the subject with an excellent piece written by Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt. In their fourth quarter review of 2006, they address how the current status of the bond market measures up against historical interest rates and inflation. From there, each of the six major sectors of the economy, Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), Residential Investment, Nonresidential Fixed Investment, Government Expenditures, Inventory Investment, and Net Exports, are covered specifically and analyzed to depict the trends for 2007.
This letter is one of the more in-depth and fundamentally heavy articles I've featured as it is chock-full of data, or what I like to call the "hard facts." Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt have done a stellar job collecting a great deal of information and dissecting it to form some well-thought investment conclusions. For those of you unfamiliar with Hoisington Investment Management, the firm is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the company has over $3.5-billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies.
Each year presents its own set of both opportunities and risks for us investors. I trust that you will find value in this Outside the Box and use it to form your own independent investment conclusions.
One of my favorite economists, Paul Kasriel, wrote an excellent article last Friday in his weekly commentary, "The Econtrarian." Not only is it a great "outside the box" analysis but it also follows up to and illustrates several points that I made in my latest e-Letter, "Party Like It's 1999."
At Northern Trust, Paul is the Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research, responsible for producing the Corporation's economic and interest rate forecasts. He is also the recipient of the 2006 Lawrence R. Klein Award for Blue Chip Forecasting Accuracy.
His article "Festivus Flow-of-Funds Stocking Stuffers," offers us some insight into consumer debt and savings. He further goes on to discuss the trends in both consumer and corporate borrowing (and I should note that he provides some excellent data on both).
I believe you will enjoy Paul's analysis and find it to be both insightful and "Outside the Box."
This week's letter is from Paul Kasriel of The Northern Trust Company. Kasriel is Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research, responsible for producing the Corporation's economic and interest rate forecasts.
The US consumer has kept the economy strong, but can they maintain the current trend? Kasriel has assembled a long list of economic numbers and asks the readers to look at the data and make their own determination on our economic future. He lays out a straight-forward case that on average the US consumer is spending more than they are making, a situation that cannot last for too long.
This week's letter comes to us from Dr. A. Gary Shilling, president of A. Gary Shilling & Co., Inc. Gary is a long time friend and one of my favorite economic analysts.
Gary takes a look at what he has termed the consumer-dependent economy. The consumer has increasingly become a larger factor in driving our economy with the help of debt and loose monetary policy. Savings, GDP, housing, debt, and bankruptcy trends are pieced together to create a bleak picture of the baby boom retirement years. You will find this very interesting food for thought in this week's Outside the Box.