As long time readers know, I am a big fan of Greg Weldon. This week he has very graciously allowed me to reproduce his client letter from last Thursday on some of the issues of Bernanke and Quantitative Easing 2. It prints a little longer than usual because of his format and all the charts, but this is one letter you should take the time to read.
You can get a free trial (his service is not cheap but if you are a global macro fund or trader, you really should have it!) by going to www.weldononline.com.
Sadly, this weekend was not a good time for Dallas. The Rangers dropped two and now have to win in Tampa Bay and the Cowboys were simply awful. The first time in 50 years that I get season tickets and they are just not fun. I was thinking they get to the Super Bowl and it is in Dallas this year and the tickets get me in. Clearly, I need to keep my day job.
Oh, well, the Mavericks are in town and the NBA will soon crank up. Oh, wait a minute. Everyone we wanted went to Miami. We are not that much better than last year. Sigh. Oh, well. It could be worse. I could be in Cleveland. (Sorry, Mike!)
Your hoping Cliff Lee pitches a shut-out analyst,
As readers know, I was in Europe a few weeks ago, making a LOT of presentations. My London-based partners seem to feel that an hour or two of down time is wasted and only for sissies. I learn as much as I impart, and come away with lots of interesting information. Every now and then I learn something that gets into the category of what in the wide, wide world of (multiple expletives deleted) economics is going on? Subprime was like that when I first read about it. Could you really design CDOs that were so patently absurd and then sell them to the Europeans and Asians? Turns out you could.
Last week, Niels Jensen (head of Absolute Return Partners) and I were talking with a variety of pension funds. They started telling us about this thing called Solvency II. Outside the arcane world of European pension funds and insurance companies, it is not on the radar screen of most people. But it may be one of the more explosive problems in our future. Cutting to the chase, the new rules require insurance companies and pension funds to buy more bonds to match their liabilities. But as yields go down they are required to buy yet MORE bonds and then yields go down some more. And so on. The possibility of serious defaults by these same pension funds in the wake of these new rules (setting aside whether it makes sense to actually require pension funds to set aside enough assets to pay their obligations) is all too real. And more pervasive than we now think.
Niels, in his latest Absolute Return Letter, wrote up what we learned, and it is Today’s Outside the Box. Wonder why yields in Europe are falling? Read on.
“I am not sure if policy makers understand how potentially dangerous this situation is. We are on the road to insolvency. And, even if pension providers manage to stay solvent, future generations of retirees are likely to run into serious financial difficulties as their retirement savings earn next to nothing, because our political leaders forced new rules on the industry, the implications of which they did not grasp.”
I know, I am just a bundle of fun. But this really is stuff we should be aware of. And tomorrow I am off to discuss this and more (with some serious play time thrown in) at the Barefoot Ranch Symposium. Enjoy your week!
Your ready for some R&R analyst,
As I am traveling in Europe for a few more days, it seems appropriate to review the very fascinating work of Arnuad Mares of Morgan Stanley in London. He poses the very provocative question: “Ask Not Whether Governments Will Default, but How?” and comes up with some very interesting statistics. He suggests that simply looking at debt to GDP misses the point and offers four other ways we should also evaluate sovereign debt risk. This is a very worthy contribution to Outside the Box.
The question I get over and over as I travel and present my thoughts is “When is the US going to get real about its fiscal deficits?” There is little sympathy for the massive deficits we are running. We are making Europe, or at least the part of Europe I am visiting, very nervous. Let us hope after the next elections we can say we are getting a handle on the deficits, and from both sides of the aisle and not just the Republicans. This is going to require cooperation.
Mallorca is very beautiful, but they have a very small and particularly nasty breed of wasp that has my left hand and fingers quite swollen and sore. But that did not take away from sitting on the balcony with my partners late one night watching a spectacular lightening display as a thunder storm was coming our direction. Then all of a sudden, we saw something that none of us have ever seen.
The moonlight was behind us, and shining through the clouds formed a very clear white rainbow. It was an amazing sight. I will never forget it. Not sure what it is a metaphor for, but I was glad to have witnessed it.
Your sometimes you just get lucky analyst,
Quickly, I will be on Larry Kudlow's show tonight (Tuesday, June 28), which is at 7 pm Eastern. Larry has promised that we will spend some quality time on some of the current issues facing us. See you there! And now, let's jump in to this week's Outside the Box.
Last January 2009, the Outside the Box featured FusionIQ's quant models that blend both fundamental and technical metrics to determine the strength of 8,000 equities as well as the overall markets (Trading With the Big Boys).
You may recall that CEO Barry Ritholtz, (and good friend and Maine fishing buddy) had been bearish throughout 2008, and was still negative on stocks back in January 2009. Relying mostly on the FusionIQ metrics, Ritholtz flipped bullish on March 2009, and stayed bullish the rest of the year. The firm began raising cash in Q1 of 2010, and by the time the first quarter was over, was only 50% long. They sold more stock in April, and in a bit of good timing that Ritholtz will tell you was "dumb lucky" went to 100% cash on May 5, 2010 – the day before the 1,000 point flash crash.
Some economists see the world from a 30,000 foot overview (that would be me); other analysts work bottoms up. The quants – mathematical analysts whose world view consists of granular data –crunch numbers to reveal what it may about markets and economies. Ritholtz is one of the few that combines all three. This has led to prescient economic and market calls that made his clients and readers money, and kept them out of harm's way when things got ugly. Indeed, Dow Jones noted that "many market observers predict tops and bottoms, but few successfully get their timing right. Jeremy Grantham and Barry Ritholtz sit in the latter category..." heady company indeed.
Regarding the market calls, Ritholtz said "We cheat. We use everything that we know works. Macro economics, technicals, fundamentals, valuation, quantitative – it all goes into the mix. That's our secret sauce." Ritholtz added "I don't know why other people limit themselves to just one discipline – the value guys never look at technicals, the fundamental analysts ignore macro cycles. It creates blind spots in their analyses. When we go over other research reports, they are obvious to see."
I have been intrigued by the Fusion system's ability to warn investors to get out of the way of dangerous stocks sectors, even the entire market – before trouble hit.
Dumb lucky or not, I have found over the last year and a half, looking over Barry's shoulder, that this system does seem to (in general) give some very interesting signals about the market. I wanted to catch up with Barry to see what the FusionIQ system was saying these days – about Energy Stocks, about Housing and anything else that he thought noteworthy. As you can imagine if you know Barry, I got an opinionated earful. (Barry is like me, often wrong, but seldom in doubt.) I asked him to put it in a letter for this week's Outside the Box.
What follows is his explanation as to why Housing fall still has further to fall. He included some charts that explain what stocks and sectors to look at and avoid.
His application of both the macro and micro views, combined with using FusionIQ "to cheat," as he puts it, is why institutions and high net worth individuals seek out the firm's investment advice.
As is my custom, I will give you a link to where you can find out more about their services. Visit their site to learn more about FusionIQ. Watch their demo. Outside the Box subscribers are eligible for a discounted rate (less 20%) on the monthly subscription. http://www.fusioniqrank.com/signup.php?a=1
One caveat. This system is for serious traders. Most of you shouldn't be trading. It takes discipline and time. That is not a knock on anyone. I don't trade or have any business trading, either. A man's got to know his limitations. So I find what Barry writes about below interesting and informative. But some few of you who trade should explore his system as another arrow in your quiver.
Your writing away on his book analyst,
This week we have a really counter-intuitive Outside the Box. I was talking with the editor of Breakthrough Technology Alert, Patrick Cox about health care costs and he made some very interesting observations from new research about health care. It seems healthy people pay more for health care than sick people. I asked him to do a write-up for us. Despite the new health care bill that passed, health care costs are going to go up, not down. And that's a good thing, as Pat explains. You really want to read this.
Some of you may not be aware that a few months ago I wrote that I was buying stocks for the first time in 12 years, and specifically smaller, transformational biotech stocks. As I wrote at the time, I think that we could see a real bubble in biotech in the latter part of this decade, and just once, please God, I want to be at the beginning of a bubble.
Pat is one (and maybe the best) of my "go-to" sources for investment ideas in the biotech space. I have been very pleased with the results of his favorite plays in the last few months. And I am glad that some of my favorite companies have seen their prices come back somewhat in the last month or so, as I plan to be buying them for a long time.
Which brings up a problem and an opportunity. Pat's letter is just getting too big circulation wise for the typically smaller companies he finds and writes about. His publishers (Agora) decided last week to basically double the price (and it is not cheap to begin with!) to reduce the number of subscribers. They did a "final promotion" at the old price with a deadline of last week. I just saw that. I asked them to extend that offer for one week to my readers and they agreed.
So for the next week, you can subscribe at a discounted $699 before it goes to double that. Below is a link to the promotional site for the letter. And yes, I know it is very "hypey." I don't like that type of copy, but that is what sells and Agora is in the business of selling letters. My business is to find you good sources and to write about them. In terms of return on investment, this subscription has been a very good one for me. Find out more here.
If you did not get to read his first Outside the Box on the biotech space (and you really should!), and my rationale on why I think there will be a bubble in biotech, you can read that at this link. http://www.johnmauldin.com/outsidethebox/the-coming-biotech-bubble-4391
And without further ado, let's find out why health care costs are going up and why it's a good thing.
Your admittedly a biotech junkie analyst,
This is a special Outside the Box. I got this letter from my good friend Greg Weldon last night and got permission to pass it on to you. I think it illustrates the problems that the world is facing from the sovereign debt crisis that is building in Europe.
There are no good solutions here, only very difficult ones. In order to get financing, Greece must willingly put itself into a multi-year depression. And borrowing more money when it cannot afford to pay back what it has will not solve the problem. 61% of Greeks now favor leaving the euro. How has Greece responded? By banning short selling on its stock market for the next two months. That should make things better. Greeks are responding by rioting and going on strike. But you truly know when a country is dysfunctional when its AIR FORCE goes on strike. Yesterday Reuters reported that hundreds of Greek pilots called in sick in protest. The response from government? The Minister of Defense said he was "profoundly disappointed." Now that had to make the pilots feel bad.
Money is flying from Greek banks, which makes sense, as how can a bankrupt Greek government guarantee Greek bank deposits? I know that Greek bankers may have a different view, but Greek depositors are voting with their feet. And Greg shows us it is not just Greece. It is fast becoming Portugal. And Spain is not far behind in my opinion.
I can well imagine there are private meetings among Greek government officials, banks and other leaders as to what must now be done. Those meetings I am sure can be tense. These things matter, as European banks hold a lot of Greek debt, as well as Portuguese and Spanish debt. European banks have not come close to dealing with their problems and are seriously over-leveraged. There is the potential for yet another banking and credit crisis stemming from European banks. Will world banks see their trust for each other (and especially European banks with large amounts of Club Med bonds) devolve as it did on August of 2008? It is something we must think about. It is possible, in my opinion. I sincerely hope it does not happen, but we must think about it. (Note, this is not something that will happen for awhile, but we should be aware of the problem.)
I want to thank Greg for letting me send this on to you. His website is www.weldononline.com. This letter is typical of his work – thorough and detailed and full of charts. He is the best slicer and dicer of data that I know.
I am in Tampa meeting with Raymond James Chief Investment Officer Jeff Saut, who graciously took us out on his boat yesterday in what I am told was the first good weather Florida has had in months. I need to get out like that more. It was good to take a weekend away with no computer. But I am back at it today, with your Outside the Box arriving on schedule.
We were all assured by Ben Bernanke that the subprime problem would be contained. In this week's Outside the Box, my good friend Todd Harrison, founder and CEO of Minyanville (www.minyanville.com) wonders about what contagion from Greece and sovereign debt crisis would look like. Todd is a very thoughtful investor and trader, and someone who I pay attention to. He has created a community of analysts and traders at www.minyanville.com that is quite unique. They graciously post my work each week as well as that of a lot of really interesting people from all over. Plus, they offer running commentary by dozens of analysts on what's happening in the markets real time. There is something for everyone, even a place to help teach your kids about money and finance. Check it out. (I have left links to other Minyanville articles referred to by Todd for those who want to look deeper.)
Let me welcome you to a new year of Outside the Box. I doubt we will have trouble finding interesting commentary this year, as there are many things that could happen that demand our attention. We start with a short column by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the London Telegraph giving us a quick run down of the problems faced around the globe. He thinks the #1 problem is Japan, and I more or less agree. I have written about Japan many times in the past few years. In my speeches I refer to Japan as a bug in search of a windshield. I am not so sure about the timing, however, as the economic and fiscal insanity that is Japan may be able to go on for longer than many think possible. But to me it is not a question of whether there will be a crisis, but when there will be one. This year? 2011? 2012? I doubt Japan makes it to the middle of the decade with a very serious and sad day of reckoning.
The downside to the continuation of running massive deficits is that when the break does come, it will be all the more painful and difficult to deal with as the debt mounts. If there is an upside, it is for the rest of the world to see what can happen to a developed country like Japan when massive deficits are allowed to pile up one after another. It will be a morality play writ large upon the walls, which cannot be dismissed.
But as Ambrose points out, it is not just Japan. There are problems all over the developed world. He does end on the encouraging note that at some point we hit bottom and will find the buying opportunity of our lives.
This is a little darker than most of the cheery forecasts of late, but we need to think of the world at large and how we are all connected.
This Friday I write my annual forecast letter. It will be more upbeat than last year's. Until then, have a great week.
I have been writing about sovereign debt risk for some time. Japan, Spain, Italy and Portugal are all facing serious fiscal deficits and funding problems within a few years. But Greece may be the first country to hit the wall. In today's Outside the Box, we look at a short column by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the London Telegraph on the problems facing Greece. Greece will soon be faced with deciding which bad choice to make among a very small set of really bad, difficult choices.
And then we turn to a piece by Edmund Andrews in the New York Times about the funding problem facing the US. The US is going to have to borrow at a minimum $3.5 trillion in the next three years according to Obama administration officials, and it is likely to be much higher. And rates are likely to be rising. As Andrews notes "Even a small increase in interest rates has a big impact. An increase of one percentage point in the Treasury's average cost of borrowing would cost American taxpayers an extra $80 billion this year." If interest rates were at the same level as a few years ago, interest costs on the debt this year would be $221 billion more than they actually were.
We are not yet Greece or Japan. But we are working on it given the current direction. At some point the bond market is not going to "go along" for the ride. Read these pieces and think about them.
As I often write, if something cannot happen then it won't. Greece cannot go along the same path they are on. While today we are blithely ignoring the debt problem, the US cannot continue with massive deficits without serious consequences.
With that being said, for those in the US, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. My intention is to write a letter this Friday as usual, assuming I can roll out of bed after the feasting. I am told by very reliable sources that thanksgiving calories do not count, and I intend to take advantage of that.
Your still hopeful we will find a way to Muddle Through analyst,
Today's offering for this week's Outside the Box starts off with a quote from Titus Maccius Plautus: "I am a rich man as long as I don't pay my creditors." Even 2200 years ago, it seems that problems of credit were an issue.
I talked last Friday about the US being faced with a number of bad choices. But it is not just the US. Today we look at a piece from my friends at Variant Perception based on London. They are a relatively new institutional research house. I have been reading their material for some time and have begun to look very much forward to it. They do some very good in-depth analysis. I asked then to shorten a piece they did on Spain and Spanish banks for this week's Outside the Box. Spain will soon be faced with a number of very uncomfortable choices, but for now they appear in denial.
For those interested, I also provide a link to another report they did on the United Kingdom, tax collections (way down!) and the link to UK gilts (or bonds). It seems they also have a problem with issuing too much debt. http://www.variantperception.com/sites/default/files/uploads/Taxing_Problems_and_a_Gilt-y_Solution.pdf
I have highlighted problems in Japan and with the European banking system. The problem from the credit crisis are world wide. To think they are not interconnected would be naiveté in the extreme. What happens in Japan and Spain and the US will affect your part of the world, some more than others. Today, let's look at Spain, which has as many unsold hoes but at one-sixth of the population, and these homes are on the books of banks at full price. I will let you read about the rest of the future train wreck that is Spain from Variant Reception (www.variantperception.com which has some other interesting sample commentary as well).
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. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation to be all about rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation.
As Niels Jensen pointed out last week, the most important question that an investor can ask is whether we are in for deflation or inflation. And this week we read a well reasoned piece on deflation. This is one of the more important essays I have sent out. You need to set aside some time to absorb this one.
Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a few thoughts on why they think it is deflation that will ultimately be the problem and not inflation we are dealing with today. This week's letter requires you to think, but it will be worth the effort.
And let me quote a few sentences in the middle of this letter about taxes which you need to think about.
"Thus Barro and Perotti are saying that each $1 increase in government spending reduces private spending by about $1, with no net benefit to GDP. All that is left is a higher level of government debt creating slower economic growth."
"The most extensive research on tax multipliers is found in a paper written at the University of California Berkeley entitled The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a new Measure of Fiscal Shocks, by Christina D. and David H. Romer (March 2007). (Christina Romer now chairs the president's Council of Economic Advisors). This study found that the tax multiplier is 3, meaning that each dollar rise in taxes will reduce private spending by $3."
Now, if you put all of the various inputs together, Hoisington and Hunt show that theory suggests we will soon be dealing with deflation. It's counter-intuitive to what we hear today, which is why the Bank for International Settlements used the stagflation word in a recent report. The transition that is coming will not be comfortable....
Nearly everyone I talk with has the sense that we are at some critical point in our economic and national paths, not just in the US but in the world. One path will lead us back to relative growth and another set of choices leads us down a path which will put a very real drag on economic growth and recovery. For most of us, there is very little we can do (besides vote and lobby) about the actual choices. What we can do is adjust our personal portfolios to be synchronized with the direction of the economy. The question is "What will that direction be?"
Today we are going to look at what I think is a very clear roadmap given to us by Dr. Woody Brock, the head of Strategic Economic Decisions and one of the smartest analysts I have come in contact with over the years. This week's Outside the Box is his recent essay, "The End Games Draws Nigh." For those who have the contacts in government, I urge you to put this piece into the correct hands so that Woody's very distinct message gets out. I think this is one of the most important Outside the Box letters I have sent out.
Woody normally does not allow his work to go beyond the circles of his clients, but I suggested to him that this piece was quite macro in cope and important for both individuals and policy makers everywhere to understand. In my own simple terms, trees cannot grow in some unlimited manner to the sky. Families cannot grow debt without limit beyond the growth of their incomes. And countries have the same constraints. While growth of debt in the short term is viable, growth of debt faster than the growth of GDP is not viable over the long run. This is not debatable. It is a simple fact. Therefore, as Woody says, it is important that you get the growth side of the equation right as you increase the debt side. Without the proper balance, you are heading for disaster.
From his intro:
"We weave these three concepts together so as to make possible an extension and generalization of "macroeconomic policy" as normally understood. Central to this extension is the need for policies that drive down the nation's Debt-to-GDP Ratio over time. Accordingly, we identify 15 policies that jointly reduce the growth of federal debt and increase the growth of GDP over time. Doing so not only points to a new set of policies for exiting today's quagmire, but also permits an appraisal of the Obama administration's current policy proposals. Regrettably these proposals do not fare well with respect to growth. Furthermore, the extension of macroeconomics we propose applies not only to the US economy, but to most all others as well. It should thus be of interest to readers everywhere."
This is longer than the usual Outside the Box, and will require you to put on your thinking cap. But you need to digest this, and especially the conclusions. But it is very important that you understand the principles and concepts Woody discusses. We are at a very critical juncture, and the paths we choose will have profound impacts on our lives and fortunes. I cannot overemphasize the point. If we choose a path of growing debt faster than we can grow GDP, the negative implications for many traditional asset classes are enormous.
Let me again thank Woody for allowing me to send this on to you. And for those who post this letter on various sites, just be sure to include a link to Woody's website, www.sedinc.com. For those interested in his subscription service you can contact Woody at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website.