Those who know me well know that I am in incurable optimist. I think the world is going to be better in ten years than it is today. I thought that 20 years ago and 10 years ago and expect to think that 10 years from now. Part of that reasoning comes from the accelerating pace of change in the technology world. The next 10 years will see more change than the last 20-30 years combined!
And that means opportunity. Yes, with ups and downs and twists, but opportunity nonetheless.
This week’s Outside the Box is a short essay from my friend Alex Daley who writes the letter Casey’s Extraordinary Technology. I have had the pleasure of spending time and corresponding with Alex, and he is one of the smartest guys I have ever met. Alex had a VERY senior position at Microsoft and has a serious range of experience. In his varied career, he has worked as a senior research executive, a software developer, project manager, senior IT executive, and technology marketer. Aside from his technological prowess, Alex has been involved in numerous startups as an advisor to venture capital companies and a successful angel investor in his own right, with a long history of spectacular investment successes. Every month, he analyzes and recommends the best tech stocks to get in now – from biotech firms to cyber-security providers with innovative solutions.
You can get a free trial subscription to his letter, which I find very valuable in keeping me up to date on what is going on as well as providing some direction (his portfolio has done well!). Click on the link if you are interested. Read more here.
Your paying attention to tech analyst,
This weekend I wrote about the problems of being an entrepreneur in our Muddle Through Economy. I would like to follow that up with two brief (but somewhat controversial) essays on two aspects of starting up small businesses. The first, by Vivek Wadhwa, points out that start-ups account for all of the net new jobs, and is a summary of a paper from the Kaufman Foundation. (You can read the 12 page paper at http://www.kauffman.org/uploadedFiles/firm_formation_importance_of_startups.pdf)
The second is by my friend William C. Dunkelberg, the Chief Economist of the National Federation of Independent Business. He asks a very simple question: Why is thrift getting such a bad name? And if we take the potential savings from “the rich,” where will the savings come from to invest in start-ups?
Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned academic. He is a Visiting Scholar at the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University.
The both make for thought-provoking reading, and offer some challenges to the conventional wisdom, which is what Outside the Box is supposed to do.
Your doing his part by creating start-ups analyst,
Today I'd like us to think about sustainability. The Mayfly is a species of insect that goes from egg to death sometimes in as little as 30 minutes, and never more than a day. Take note, because as investors we have to be wary of the same rapid fluxes in economies. I'm of course speaking of the hype surrounding the Chinese economy lately. Everyone is talking about China this week, and rightfully so, as its GDP is nearing Japan's and could become the second largest in the world. But is it sustainable? Or a boom-and-bust similar to the Mayfly?
I'm sending you an interview with a STRATFOR analyst who, unlike the hype, says China's economy is weak and unsustainable. Find out what indicators he's looking at by <<watching this video>>. While you're at it, sign up to receive their free weekly intelligence reports. You'll enjoy the unique & global perspective.
The United States' southern neighbors have always held a special interest for explorers. In particular Sir Walter Raleigh and his ill-fated quest for El Dorado comes to mind (I'm sure we can all relate). Modern day explorers, also known as investors, are still looking for the best place to stake their resources in search of riches. Thankfully, we have considerably more information at our disposal than a treasure map. But how do we know when X marks the spot, or if it's just another faulty lead?
Intelligence, not just mass-produced information, is the key. For my global intelligence, I turn to the experts at STRATFOR. In this edition of "Outside the Box", I've included a STRATFOR analysis on the situation in Mexico. It evaluates the drug wars in terms of the U.S. and Mexican economies. Give it a read and sign up for their free reports. You'll soon understand the value in intelligence, not just news.
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 email@example.com or visit their website: http://www.eclectica-am.com
Your wondering if we are all turning Japanese 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 it 1932? Are we in a Depression? Where is the bottom? John gives us a very balanced view and actually offers some positive insight on the markets. There may be light ahead.
(Note: there is a chart from Ned Davis Research that is, as John notes, not to be distributed further. I did call Ned Davis Research and they graciously gave me permission to use it as well.) Have a great week, and enjoy some positive thoughts below.
This week I have a very special Outside the Box for you. Peter Bernstein is recognized as one of the more brilliant and insightful analysts of our times. At 89, he has been writing prescient material longer than most of us "young guys" (I am 59, and hope I am still writing at 89, or even able to write!) have been even marginally in the markets. His Economics and Portfolio Strategy Letter is read by the true cognoscenti of the investment world.
He has given me permission to reproduce his latest letter in which he offers two insights. Rather than give you some teaser copy, why don't you just jump in a read. And trust me, anything that Peter writes is worth reading more than a few times.
For those interested, you can learn more about Peter and subscribe to his letter at www.peterlbernsteininc.com.
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,
I have often commented about the problem of personal savings. We worry about the lack of savings here in the US, but many do not understand that if everyone started to save 5% of there income immediately that it would seriously impact consumer spending, pushing the US into a recession. It is a paradox, as Paul McCulley points out, that what may be good for the individual may not be good for the collective country.
And in this week's Outside the Box, good friend and this week's Maine fishing buddy Paul McCulley writes about another paradox called the Paradox of Deleveraging. This Paradox is at the heart of the credit crisis. Many of you will not like his conclusions, as it calls for the government to step into the breach created by the problem he describes. But as I often point out, the purpose of Outside the Box is to make us think about ideas which may not be in our usual sources of information. Paul is the Managing Director at PIMCO, the world's largest bond manager. (www.pimco.com for more information.)
Regular readers of Outside the Box will be familiar with Michael Lewitt's thoughtful commentary. Today, he reminds us that much of the turmoil we are in could have been avoided with proper regulatory structures and then does a very poignant analysis of various sectors of the economy. I agree with him that we have not seen the worst and that we will continue to see this mild recession/slow recovery for longer than we should without true structural reform.
On a side note, I will be on CNBC Tuesday morning at around 10:00 or 10:30 with Mark Haines and Erin Burnett, talking about commodity prices and regulation.
So without further ado, let's jump into today's Outside the Box.
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.
This week I take great pride and pleasure in being able to bring you a recent letter from my very good friend Peter Bernstein. I asked him to let me publish this, as I think this is one of the more important, thought-provoking pieces I have read in a very long time. I am grateful for that permission, as you will be when you read this. I would take the time to read it through several times. Read this paragraph from the beginning of the letter to get an idea of the thought path down which Peter is going to take us:
"As Goldilocks shreds, we have to start thinking about what kind of long-term environment is going to replace it. Shifts to new environments are always attenuated. They are also rare across time, which means most of us have limited experience with this phenomenon. New environments often tend to sneak up on us and do not announce themselves with a fanfare. Most of us are unaware of what has happened until enough time passes to provide good perspective."
Peter argues persuasively that we are getting ready to enter a new economic and investing environment as profoundly different as the 80s were to the 70s. As I said earlier, take your time and think through the implications of his thoughts.
Peter writes Economic and Portfolio Strategy and has done so for decades. He has won numerous honors, edited some of the most prestigious financial journals and has been at the center of economic thought for six decades. At 87, he is still writing material that makes those of us who are his junior simply stand in amazement and applaud. His book, "Against the Gods - The Amazing Story of Risk" - is on my list as one of the five most important books on economics and finance. You can get it a Amazon.com. And while you are there, get his latest book, "Capital Ideas Evolving" or the important "Power of Gold."
For those interested in his letter or more information about Peter, you can go to www.peterlbernsteininc.com.
This week's Outside the Box is going to be a little different. I am going to write about the extraordinary action by the NY Fed to foster the Bear Stearns deal with JP Morgan, and give you three brief notes from Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital Management and Bob Eisenbeis (former executive vice-president of the Federal Reserve of Atlanta) of Cumberland Advisors.
Caroline Baum is one of my favorite financial columnists, who writes with a voice of calm reason. She writes for Bloomberg, and I encourage you to read her regularly. This week she touches on the problems in the markets and the continuing calls for government intervention.
Things are coming loose in an ever-widening array of markets in the financial world. No one is suggesting that the subprime problems will be contained, as almost every authority figure did last summer. We now know that everything is seemingly connected, a theme that I have written about for years.
So, what should be done now? Read Caroline's brilliant note for one surprising answer.