Even while here in Tuscany I go on reading my email, albeit at a pace that is somewhat less maniacal than usual. I can't help myself; I find it fascinating to "surf" my emails and other sources. I get several hundred emails a day and about 40-50 that get more than a cursory notice. (I always try to read emails sent to me personally!) Today, for your Outside the Box, I am going to do something rather different. Rather than posting one or two essays, I am going to cut and paste snippets that I have found interesting in the past 24 hours.
There's no theme at all, but this will give you a sense of what I am giving at least passing thought to. While we may have been focused on Europe in my recent writings, I do try to remain aware of the broader world and markets. I still actually read research on the equity markets, and read analysis of various alternative investments and their markets. I have a number of friends who gather information, and when they send me something, even if it's somewhat lengthy, I really do try to read it. And there are so many links to follow and searches to perform. This retreat to Tuscany has made me realize that I need to focus a little less on the immediate and urgent, as fascinating as it is in today's world, and more on the deeper, importantideas.
I am going to force myself to stop at five pages, so I don't know yet how many sources there will be. My Chinese translators are anxiously awaiting this note, even though I am somewhat ahead of my US editor's day here.
I will also go deeper into what I learned this week from the lengthy and stimulating conversations here in Trequanda, and share a few impressions of Italy. The villa is getting somewhat quieter and more relaxed, as there are only a few couples (Rob Arnott and his family, among others) for the next few days; and I have promised Tiffani I will actually leave the villa this week and explore during the day, rather than just making the evening forays to dinner; so there will be even more downtime, which I am finding I need more than I thought I did. And while my partners have all told me to actually take some time off, I am sure they will be glad to see me back in the saddle, which will happen on Monday. Speaking of which, I did go to Siena yesterday to watch that horse race (Il Palio) around the town square. It has been run for over 600 years, and there is an enormous amount of ceremony and pageantry associated with it. Google it.
This morning we saw Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista off. He has been here the last week, along with Neil Howe and David Tice, who brought their daughters (daughters seem to be the general theme this season). Steven Diggle dropped by on a few occasions. Steven ran what ended up being the largest hedge fund in Asia, turning what started out as a few hundred million into more than a few billion, although he modestly says that he simply had a few very good years during the recent crisis, while everyone else lost half (or more). He closed his fund at 'the top' and now runs his own family office. But his range of knowledge and insight is quite broad. He was of particular use in explaining the nuances of Italian football during the Eurocup games.
The conversations ran far into the wee hours most nights and were picked up the following mornings. I actually find such times more relaxing and invigorating than simply 'checking out.' And having a variety of views on numerous topics and subjects from people with widely varying backgrounds has been a real delight. The only downside from the past ten days is that my must-read book list was expanded by about 30 volumes. Listening to Newt and Neil expound on Roman history, a topic about which I realized I have no more than cursory knowledge, has inspired me to try to delve from time to time into the history classics.
So with that, let's jump into my inbox and explore some more or less random notes from today's reading. Again, the only criterion is that it arrived within the last 24 hours – and I promise to stop at around five pages. My comments are italicized or [in brackets].
Your living on Italian country time analyst,
Many of us in the US are focused on our own woes. But this is a global credit crisis. In today's Outside the Box, we take a look at the currency markets, which are in an historic upheaval and also look at what is going on in Europe. I suspect that Europe is in for a period of much distress, as the world begins to deleverage That is why one government after another will back the deposits of banks within their countries, for otherwise capital will flee to countries like Ireland and Germany which ARE guaranteeing the deposits for all banks in their borders. Many European banks are leveraged 50 to 1 (not a misprint). I suspect that more government will do like Belgium and the Netherlands and inject capital directly into their local banks deemed too big to fail.
I am going to give you three brief pieces which all look at a different part of the crisis, but looking at the crisis from a more international perspective. The first is from Dennis Gartman's letter (www.thegartmanletter.com) with his views on the overnight currency markets. (Note: the yen has risen even more since he wrote!)
The second piece is a short note from my friends at GaveKal (www.gavekal.com) in which they ask can the euro survive and if so, what will it look like? Very provocative, but in line with my thoughts that the euro will one day be once again at par against the dollar.
The last piece is a column by Wolfgang Munchau writing in today's Financial Times. Munchau argues that the fact that EU member nations managed to survive their first series of bank failures does not mean it can afford to take the risk of defaulting to continued improvisation. Munchau comes out squarely in favor of a coordinated, funded rescue program. Again, thought provoking, and as I noted in this week's letter, something that the US could face within a few weeks as well.
Fascinating markets and times we live in. Let's hope for a rally tomorrow.
This week's essay is from my good friend Louis Gave. He writes about the current situation in France, offering a very different perspective than we have been seeing in the Western papers. I have long been uneasy with the demographic problems in Europe. My book, Bull's Eye Investing, high-lighted some of the very problems we are watching unfold now. Sometimes to understand the world of investing, you have to have a grasp of the world of politics and society. These are part of the fundamentals that drive our portfolios. I suggest you read this letter with your thinking caps on.
But before we jump to Louis's essay, let's look at a few words from Dennis Gartman this morning on the same topic. If you wonder why the dollar is getting stronger when we have such serious fiscal and trade imbalances, and in which all other currencies in history having reached said imbalances fell sharply, then ponder the words of the writers. Where does long-term capital feel the most safe? In spite of the imbalances, which should concern anyone, the answer is the US. That may say more about the world than any other thought.
I must say Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world, and the French countryside has yielded some of my favorite memories. I hope this situation gets better soon! Maybe it will be the catalyst for some reform.