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?).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).
This week I offer two short essays for your reading pleasure in Outside the Box. The first is from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writing in the London Telegraph. He gives some more specifics about the situation in Europe I wrote about this weekend.
He ends with the following sober quote: "My awful fear is that we will do exactly the opposite, incubating yet another crisis this autumn, to which we will respond with yet further spending. This is the road to ruin." This is a must read.
And the second piece? Last week in Outside the Box we looked at an "Austrian" (economic) view of the inflation/deflation debate from my friends at Hoisington. This week we look at the 180 degree opposite with Keynesian aficionado Paul McCulley, who argues that the Fed should be Responsibly Irresponsible and target higher inflation. This essay has brought some rather heated arguments in print and from some of the people who will be with Paul and me at the annual Maine fishing trip. And you can bet I will put them all together with a little wine to see how the argument ensues. I will report back.
And Paul ends with a great and what is a quite controversial line, "Yes, as Bernanke intoned, there are no free lunches. But no lunch doesn't work for me. Or the American people. While it is true, as Keynes intoned, that we are all dead in the long run, I see no reason to die young from orthodoxy-imposed anorexia."
And finally, this one last note on European banks: "European banks including Societe Generale SA and BNP Paribas SA hold almost $200 billion in guarantees sold by New York-based AIG allowing the lenders to reduce the capital required for loss reserves." (Bloomberg). Want to think about the US taxpayer paying to bail out Europeans banks? Think that might be a tad controversial? This could be explosive.
This week's Outside the box looks at some very interesting research done by two economic historians, Barry Eichengreen of the University of California at Berkeley and Kevin O'Rourke of Trinity College, Dublin They give us comparisons between the Great Depression and today's downturn. They continue to update their data from time to time, the link to their work is at http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3421. I have not previously heard of www.voxeu.org, but it is a collection of the work of well regarded international economists that seems quite interesting for those who enjoy readings in the dismal science.
This week's OTB will print long, but it is primarily charts. Please note that I have re-arranged some of the new charts to cut down on space because of some duplications. Word count is not all that much and it reads well. I will be referring to their work in future letters as well. Have a great week!
Before we get into this week's Outside the Box, let me give you a few pieces of data that came across my desk this morning, which will help set the stage for the OTB offering.
Fitch (the ratings agency), in a downgrade of yet another 543 mortgage-backed securities of 2005-07 vintage, gives us the following side notes: "The home price declines to date have resulted in negative equity for approximately 50% of the remaining performing borrowers in the 2005-2007 vintages. In addition to continued home price deterioration, unemployment has risen significantly since the third quarter of last year, particularly in California where the unemployment rate has jumped from 7.8% to 11%... The projected losses also reflect an assumption that from the first quarter of 2009, home prices will fall an additional 12.5% nationally and 36% in California, with home prices not exhibiting stability until the second half of 2010. To date, national home prices have declined by 27%. Fitch Rating's revised peak-to-trough expectation is for prices to decline by 36% from the peak price achieved in mid-2006. The additional 9% decline represents a 12.5% decline from today's levels."
So, what does an aging population do that has seen its retirement nest egg in the form of housing and stocks go literally nowhere for 12 years? You go back to work! David Rosenberg, now with Gluskin Sheff, offers us this insight:
"What really struck us in the employment report of a few weeks ago was the fact that the only segment of the population that is gaining jobs is the 55+ age category. This group gained 224,000 net new jobs in May while the rest of the population lost 661,000. In fact, over the last year, those folks 55 and up garnered 630,000 jobs whereas the other age categories collectively lost over six million positions. This is epic." [See chart below.]
"Moreover, the number of 55 year olds and up who have two jobs or more has risen 1.1% in the last year, the only age cohort to have managed to gain any multiple jobs at all. Remarkable. These folks have seen their wealth get destroyed by two bubble-busts less than seven years apart — the Nasdaq nest egg back in 2001 and the 5,000 square foot McMansion in 2007. Both bubbles ended in tears ... and so close together."
With that as backdrop, what are we to make of the prospects for recovery over the next decade? Not much, if we listen to Professor Paul Krugman of Princeton. He suggests that the developed world could be entering a lost decade, just like Japan after their crash. Let me quickly point out that I routinely disagree with Krugman on a large number of issues. And I usually know why I disagree and believe his policy suggestions are wrong.
That being said, one purpose of Outside the Box is to look at ideas and thinkers that we may not always agree with. Krugman certainly qualifies on that front for me. However, it must be admitted that he is a very smart man. Further, his thinking is important, because it somewhat reflects the thinking of that part of the establishment that is in charge of the Fed and the Treasury. And while we are not getting gloomy long-term forecasts from either the Fed or the Treasury, I find it remarkable that Krugman is less sanguine than his peers. And there is much (certainly not all!) within this interview that I find myself in surprising agreement with. This one made me think as I read and reread it.
If he is correct, the rosy recovery assumptions built into the already bloated budget projections are going to be far too optimistic, not just for the US, but throughout Europe as well. Krugman is interviewed very capably by Will Hutton, a veteran writer and economist for the UK Guardian (a bastion of liberal politics). The direct link is http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jun/14/economics-globalrecession.
Green shoots? Really? I invite you to read and think about what this interview means for the road to recovery. I will take this up more in next Friday's missive. (Note, I did not write a letter last week. There was a new Mauldin grandchild on Friday, and I decided that some things just take precedence.) Have a great week.
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.
A long-time religious land bridge between the Islamic and Western worlds, Turkey now finds itself an economic gatekeeper, a US-backed contender for the EU and the only key that could unlock Europe from dependence on Russian resources. The value of your dollar is intrinsically linked to last weekâ€™s summitsâ€”the most important multinational summits in history.
Iâ€™d like to share with you an article by my friend George Friedman at STRATFOR. It delves into the Summits (G20, NATO, bilaterals) and explores the connections between finance and geopolitics. In this case, it boils down to two string-holding puppeteers: Germany and Russia. Germany, the largest exporter in the world, is happy to up its production while the US spreads its dollar paper-thin by contributing to an IMF fund that will bail out countries who will in turn spend their money in Germanyâ€™s already tremendous export sector. Russia, the largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, too stands to benefit from US contributions to the IMF pot, as their slice of the pie gets bigger with the panâ€”as long as Turkey keeps her pipes closed.
The decisions made and policies enacted at the Summits trickle down to you and me. To make sense of it all, I encourage you to read STRATFOR. George has arranged a special offer for my readers: click here to take advantage of a 2-for-1 deal; you get a 2-year Membership for the 1-year price of $349. STRATFOR is the best global intelligence service in the world, and their unbiased coverage of the G20, NATO, and other extracurricular summits is unmatched by anyone else.
This week we look at the European bank markets through the eyes of my London partner Niels Jensen, head of Absolute Return Partners. I continue to believe that this is a brewing crisis which could have far more significant implications for the global economy than the Asian Crisis of 1998. In this week's Outside the Box, Niels has compiled a sobering set of data that suggests that only massive government involvement in Europe on a scale that is unprecedented will keep the wheels from coming off in Europe and the global economy.
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.
There are plenty of sources out there that are happy to tell you what's happening in the world, and much of it matters. But oftentimes, what's much more important is the dog that didn't bark. Remember Enron's undisclosed subsidiaries? Or the off-balance sheet holdings of just about every financial services firm?
Sherlock Holmes uses the dog that didn't bark to solve the mystery -- the dog had to know the intruder. My friend George Friedman's company, Stratfor, uses the dog that didn't bark to highlight issues that are equally critical to the global economy -- that aren't being discussed. Traditional sources let me mitigate known risks. Stratfor tells me about the risks and opportunities I might not even be aware of.
I'm including an example below: Stratfor's "EU Summit: What is Not Being Talked About." As this analysis demonstrates, normal reporting on what was discussed might be helpful, but it's the "missing topics" -- those that the media misses -- that you really need to think about.
George has arranged for a special offer on a Stratfor Membership just for my readers. Click here to join now, and you'll get Stratfor's 2009 Annual Forecast as part of your Membership. Plus George has a new book (and it's fascinating!) coming out in January which he'll send you as well. I highly encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity.
Your dogged by bear-markets analyst,
As various companies go hat in hand to Washington for a bailout, a recurring topic is what guaranty do the taxpayers get that they're not just throwing more money down a hole. Good question. Who wants warrants or preferred shares if the company is doomed anyway? What you're seeing take place are negotiated backstops between the US Government and pools of capital. A couple of examples:
The Big 3 may get a bailout. Financially the US taxpayer will get a stake - in what will surely be radically reshaped companies. Citibank just got a large infusion from Saudi Arabia's Prince al-Waleed bin Talal al-Saud - just days before a US government orchestrated rescue helped rocket the share price. Maybe these are just coincidental moves. Maybe not.
What we're witnessing isn't finance or investment as usual. We're watching a shift to a managed economic structure, where government officials determine who will live and who will die. It's a shift from investments to agreements, where having access to large pools of ready cash is the ultimately persuasive argument. And lacking access means doing whatever you're told.
I've long been encouraging you to read George Friedman's work at Stratfor, but it becomes more important every day. Stratfor is producing a series on Countries in Crisis, and I've enclosed the latest piece which is the exception to the rule, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. This series is a fascinating look at how those with the gold get to make the rules. Unless you've got your own sovereign wealth fund, you'll probably want to read it...
As you're structuring your own portfolios, understanding the geopolitical drivers behind where the markets are going is now more important than ever. Because these insights are so important, I've arranged a special deal for you on a Stratfor Membership which also includes a free copy of George's new book, The Next 100 Years. Click here to take advantage of this offer today. These are the drivers for the coming year, and I encourage you to factor them in today.
With the election of a new US President, everyone is focused on the "First 100 Days." How Obama transitions into the presidency impacts not just the U.S. but the entire global system. What happens to U.S. relations with Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan? What's going to happen at Treasury and to all the programs addressing the financial crisis? What's going to emerge from the next G20 summit?
You need to read the analysis below, written by my good friend George Friedman at Stratfor. He details the immediate issues facing the president-elect, including one of the stickiest: Europe's desire for a global banking regulatory regimen. How will Obama respond to European pressure? George has built his company Stratfor and its reputation on forecasting the future, and I'm amazed at how often he's right -- on broad themes and specific events.
As we move into the next 100 days, George is way ahead of us with a book called The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century. I've read an advance copy, and it's absolutely fascinating. In it, he maps out what geopolitical changes the world will see in the next hundred years: the rise of Mexico (and war with the U.S.!), Poland and Turkey returning to great-power status, and a second Cold War, among others. I can tell you, his arguments are as absolutely compelling as the conclusions are provocative.
George has arranged a special pre-publication offer for my readers. Click here to take advantage of a Stratfor Membership that also includes a free copy of George's new book. For insight into the next 100 days and the next 100 years, I'm relying on George Friedman and his team at Stratfor. I know you'll find as much value in George's forecasts as I do.
Can the credit crisis get any worse? In this week's Outside the Box my London partner Niels Jensen shows that it indeed can. Banks, and mainly European banks, have large exposure to emerging market debt of all types through both sovereign, corporate and individual loans. Just as banks have had to write down large losses from the subprime crisis and other related problems, next will come a wave of potential losses from yet another source. Niels then goes on to give us a look the size and problems with hedge fund deleveraging. Altogether, this is a very interesting letter and one that is written from a non-US point of view that I think you will find instructive.
Really hear what I'm about to tell you. The center of gravity of the world economic system has moved from New York to Washington. Let me illustrate what I mean so you understand just how profound this is. Banks used to compete against banks. US carmakers competed against each other and the Japanese. And the New York financial markets told you how they're doing against each other.
Understand what's happening now. The US Treasury has become the only "customer" that matters. The Treasury is now the customerâ€”and investor -- with the $750+ billion checkbook. The Treasury is now the "investment banker" of last resort, arranging and financing mergers. Banks are competing against insurance companies for their slice of the bailout pie. Chrysler and GM (and the Michigan Congressional delegation) are looking to Washington, not Goldman or Merrill, to facilitate a merger. This is a seismic shift.
As investors, we have to start looking at the world in a completely different way, and getting our information from different sources. A company's 10-K is almost irrelevant if all it includes is financial statements and market outlooks. What matters now are the "exogenous" factors: government guarantees of the commercial paper market, currency interventions, direct capital infusions, etc. And how does a company describe in its Management Outlook that "Yes, our company is too big to fail."
In this environment, it's more important than ever to read unbiased geopolitical intelligence and analysis of government moves, and that's what my friend George Friedman at Stratfor offers. I'm enclosing below his team's Fourth Quarter Forecast. George's team analyzes US government policy as well as the moves that are being taken by central banks and governments around the world as the private sector gets taken public all across the globe. You will not be able to understand market moves if you don't understand who the real movers are now.
I'm sending you Stratfor's Fourth Quarter Forecast, and I strongly encourage you to join Stratfor and get access to all their daily intelligence. George has arranged a special offer on a Stratfor Membership for my readers: click here to take advantage of this opportunity. In this new era, I use Stratfor daily to give me a wide-lens, global view of politics and economics. I know you'll gain as much from reading Stratfor as I do.
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,
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 is we look at two short articles on different topics from some of my favorite writers. The first is by Anatole Kaltsky of GaveKal Research and looks at some of the recent political and economic problems in Europe and what must be done to help turn the EU around. Germany recently had state elections (big upsets), the French vote on the EU constitution was this weekend (expected to be a rejection). These and other issues will have interesting long term implications for Europe and the European economy. (I am writing this week's OTB a little head of time to take a holiday on Monday, so I am not sure of the French vote.)
The second article is by Paul Kasriel of Northern Trust and discusses the leading economic indicators (LEI) and why economists seem to ignore what it is telling them. Paul finds a strong correlation between the LEI and recessions. Can you guess what it might be telling us now?
These two articles were both short, but had some interesting things to say so that is why they were both picked for this week's Outside the Box.
This week we will turn once again to a group headquartered in Hong Kong with offices in Stockholm and New York called GaveKal Research Limited. Louis- Vincent Gave's GaveKal Ad Hoc Comments for Friday, April 8, 2005 looks at the political and economic climate in Europe and what that might mean for the Euro and European government bonds.
The European Union, now with a few years behind it, is looking to make some changes and as we have seen throughout history, what is good politically is not always good economically. Gave looks at the current issues and why this is bearish for Europe. The problem is not the concept of the EU but the implementation when politicians get involved and that is why this became our latest Outside the Box.
It is one of the reasons I wrote last week that I am somewhat nervous about the euro in the short term and prefer to play my overall bearishness on the dollar with Asian currencies. (Go to www.investorsinsight.com for last week's letter.)