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 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.
This week I bring you two different articles as an offering for Outside the Box. As a way to introduce the first, let me give you the quote from Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg about the rising threat of global trade protectionism:
"The Financial Times weighs in on the rising threat of global trade protectionism in today's Lex Column on page 14 ("Economic Patriotism"). The FT points out that the stimulus packages of many countries include "buy local" provisions. At home, there is a proposed inclusion of a 'Buy American' provision in the economic recovery package and this could set off trade retaliation from importers of US goods. Here is what the FT had to say, 'It was trade protectionism that made the 1930s Depression "Great". Congress would do well to understand that it is in everyone's interest to keep trade open today.'"
I have long written that the one thing that could derail my Muddle Through (at least eventually) view point is a return to trade protectionism. Nothing could be more devastating to the hopes of a recovery. Nothing could more surely turn a recession into a depression, and a global one at that.
David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors notes the very real problem with Tim Geithner's written testimony, threatening China and calling the manipulators, clearly making the point that this is Obama's policy. I did not have time to touch last Friday on the dangerous policy if it is that and not just rhetoric, but David says everything I would want to say and does it shortly and eloquently.
Second, several people requested a chance to look at the actual paper I cited in last week's Thoughts from the Frontline by Nouriel Roubini and Elisa Parisi-Capone of RGE Monitor (www.rgemonitor.com) on how they come up with an estimated potential loss of $3.6 trillion dollars in the US financial system. It makes for rather grim reading, but they go sector by sector to show where the losses are coming from.
Tomorrow I will hold my first "conversation" with Ed Easterling and Dr. Lacy Hunt. To find out more about how to listen in and still get the half price discount for the rest of this week at http://www.johnmauldin.com/conversations. Just enter the code JM44 when asked. Have a great week.
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, you can call 888-346-7444. Tell them that you read about it in Outside the Box and you will get not only his 2009 forecast issue 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 the holidays. And enjoy this week's Outside the Box.
This week we look at a very solid piece of analysis on the world economy from my friends and London business partners Niels Jensen and Jan Wilhelmsen of Absolute Return Partners (www.arpllp.com). I find it is quite useful to read the considered opinions of those from outside the US and particularly from people who have developed keen insight from years in the trenches. Niels and Jan are certainly in that category. The world economy is clearly out of balance and they point out where some of the opportunities and problems lie. I think you will find this edition of Outside the Box quite useful. If you care to, you can write them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From South Africa,
What a momentous weekend. I was pounding the table about the need to move quickly on Fannie and Freddie in my last few letters, and especially this last letter. And then they did it. There are a lot of details that have yet to come out, and it is likely to be far more expensive the Savings and Loan crisis was for the US taxpayer, but it did get done. Hopefully, we can get some real regulation for part of our costs, as well as get rid of the implicit guarantees by US taxpayers so that something like this never happens again. The fact that it did was the fault of the regulatory environment and Congress. They fired the heads of Fannie and Freddie (with multi-million dollar parting gifts), but sadly, the truly responsible parties will be re-elected to perpetrate yet more frauds.
This week in Outside the Box we will look at two essays, one by Paul McCulley, Managing Director of PIMCO (www.pimco.com). The second is a quick shot by Michael Lewitt of Hegemony Capital Management on the Freddie and Fannie nationalization (www.hcmmarketletter.com). They both make points that there is a lot of work still to be done by the authorities. This crisis is not over...
And on that note, I agree with this paragraph from Greg Weldon:
"There is talk that yesterday's 'event' signals an end to the credit crisis ... nothing could be further from the truth. The take over of Fannie and Freddie implies that the credit contraction continues to INTENSIFY, as the government will likely NOT ... EXPAND ... the balance sheets of these two entities. More importantly, the take-over does NOTHING in terms of bank lending standards, which continue to tighten. Nor does it do anything for Ma and Pa Kettle, as it relates to their ability to continue to take on more debt, which continues to worsen in line with intensifying erosion in the housing market and the labor market as was WELL EVIDENCED by ALL the macro-data released last week ... and the horrific labor market report. Indeed, today's markets move might provide the best "FADE" opportunity of the year!!!"
And Now, on to the essays by Paul and Michael.
In this weekend's Thoughts from the Frontlines, I quoted from part of a very thoughtful, right-on-target analysis by David A. Rosenberg entitled "The Elusive Bottom." Over the weekend, I decided that you should read the whole piece, as Rosenberg makes some very solid points about how the markets and the economy may play out over the next few years. He has a non-consensus viewpoint, but that is what I like for Outside the Box. In fact, I think this is one of the more thought-provoking pieces I have used in OTB for some time.
Rosenberg is the North American Economist for Merrill Lynch. They were gracious to give me permission to send this letter out on such a short notice, and I believe you will well served to take the time to think through his analysis. And rather than try and give you a quick summary, let's just jump right in.
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.
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 we look at a recent analysis from Professor Nouriel Roubini of the Stern School of Business at New York University. Nouriel has become known for his rather clear clarion calls that the housing bubble would lead to a credit crisis and possibly much worse. He has been one who has been on CNBC and was in the clear minority early last year, but now no one is laughing (I was once on the show with him, and we were not the majority view).
In this week's Outside the Box, Nouriel details for us how a worse case scenario would develop. We both hope this does not develop. It can be avoided, but realistic investors need to know what to look for to make sure we are not going there. I like Nouriel's work, as it pull's no punches. You can go to RGE Monitor at www.rgemonitor.com to see his regular work, which is geared to institutions. Like this letter, he offers Outside the Box analysis, which I think you will find useful.
The subprime problem, we were told, would not spread to other markets. It would be "contained." And it has, according to Jim Grant. He quipped last week that it has been contained on planet Earth. The risks coming from rising defaults in the US (now above 600,000 and rising from just 200,000 a few years ago) are clearly spreading to markets far beyond the subprime world.
This week's Outside the Box talks about the next two dominoes that could fall: junk bonds and counterparty risk in the various credit default swap markets. Ted Seides is the Director of Investments at Protégé Partners, LLC, a hybrid fund of funds that invests in and seeds small, specialized hedge funds. He writes this week's piece in Peter Bernstein's Economic and Portfolio Strategy, one of the most respected of market analysis letters. You can learn more about the letter at www.peterlbernsteininc.com.
This piece is a little longer than most letters, but it is one of the more important editions of Outside the Box this year. This is a must read. You absolutely need to understand the nature of the systemic risk we are facing, and Ted does a great job of explaining in very clear terms the nature of the risks that we have created din our modern markets. I have left the footnotes in, and they are at the end of the letter.
This week in Outside the Box, Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Management undertake an assiduous analysis of the economy, specifically quantifying the underlying impact of the real estate market on GDP growth through the follow-on adverse effects on consumer spending.
As outlined in previous publications, the housing debacle has not by any stretch of the imagination reached bottom, having an estimated $800 billion of adjustable rate mortgages reset between October 2007, and December 2008. These resets Hoisington indicates are the home buyers who bought at the top of the 2006 housing market, many of whom paid zero down and received mortgage rates of 0%. A somber fact: estimated current market value of homes is $21.0 Trillion; historically having one dollar change in wealth equate to a five-cent change in consumer spending ? would result in $210 billion reduction in consumer spending, given a 20% decline in home prices, or a wealth loss of $4.2 trillion. Others think this estimate conservative, Dr. Robert Shiller of Yale University has calculated that home prices would have to decline by 50% to be at par with cost of rental housing.
Hoisington Investment Management Company focuses on long-term investment strategies based on Economic Analysis. The firm is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios with over $3.5 billion under management for large institutional clients. Van R. Hoisington is the President and Chief Investment Officer and has produced an outstanding fifteen-year performance record. Dr. Lacy Hunt, an internationally known economist, joined the firm in 1996 adding depth and expertise with his in-depth research and analysis.
This week in Outside the Box, good friend Paul McCulley of PIMCO fame addresses the important topic of fed fund easing. Paul addresses the predicament the current Fed finds itself in on account of not wanting to bail out those who took excessive risk in what he dubs the "shadow banking system," - comprising an alphabet soup of levered non-bank investment conduits, vehicles, and structures. The crux of the matter as Paul highlights is that the 50bp discount rate reduction still remains a penalty to the Fed Funds rate, hence simply not an attractive source of funding for real banks, who have access to the Fed funds rate. Bernanke and company are trying to kill the notion of a Fed Put, whereby the Fed "bails out" Wall Street whenever losses increase significantly which further worsens excessive risk taking, or moral hazard. The conclusion is while many would like to think this simply is a Wall Street quant fund predicament, the reality is that Main Street shares the pain in the form of tightening terms, conditions and rates for all but conforming mortgages. Thus, the Fed needs to reduce the Fed funds rate not to bail out Wall Street but rather to save Main Street from recession on account of weaker growth, which to boot would carry serious debt-deflation consequences. I have provided Chart I below in larger print for illustrative purposes.
Who should we blame for the problems in the credit markets? This week in Outside the Box my good friend Barry Ritholtz takes on the task of pointing his prodigious finger at the guilty parties. As he notes, there is plenty of guilt to go around. This is a problem that is going to stay with us more than a few weeks. As I wrote last week, it is not a problem of liquidity. It is a problem of credibility. Until investors of all types feel safe getting back into the structured finance market water, US mortgages and all sorts of consumer finance are going to be severely hobbled. There is plenty of money on the sidelines, but it is going to take some work to make investors feel comfortable.
Part of that process is to figure out what went wrong and how do we avoid getting into this mess yet again? How do we restore credibility? I offer a few quick thoughts on this at the end of Barry's work. And if you have the time, you should click on some of the links Barry has to various research, especially the first link which shows that housing prices could easily drop 15% (or more in some of the bubble areas!).
Finally, I should note that I am going to be speaking yet again at the New Orleans Investment Conference (October 21-25, 2007). This is always one of the great investment conferences of the year. You can click here to learn more.
Today's Outside the Box will feature one of the better pieces written in the last few years by my good friend Paul McCulley. In his article "The Plankton Theory Meets Minsky," Paul shows the importance of why the problem with sub-prime mortgages will affect the entire housing market rather than just a small sector of it. He goes on to further point out that the excess liquidity in housing and the ability to borrow against home equity over the last couple of years was more than just the doing of the Fed as the loosening of credit lending standards played a significant role. This topic is important because it is at the heart of why I think a housing slowdown will affect the nation's economy.
For a little background on Paul, he is a Managing Director at PIMCO where he writes a monthly commentary titled "Global Central Bank Focus." He is a very intelligent thinker but what I enjoy the most about Paul is his ability to take seemingly complex data and transform it into an easy to understand analysis.
The sub-prime sector has been a hot topic as of late but I trust that you will find this piece to be an "outside the box" take on how it happened and what it will affect in the coming year.
I touched briefly on the subject of housing in my Friday letter, "Thoughts from the Frontline" (you can view it here). Data from across the country points to a number of trends including declines in both new construction and existing home sales. Market "experts" are calling for both sets of outcomes with some saying that we have been through the brunt of the contraction and with others saying that further declines await us yet.
This week's letter is from Paul Kasriel of The Northern Trust Company. Paul is the Senior Vice President and Director of Economic Research, responsible for producing the Corporation's economic and interest rate forecasts. He advises the Bank's Assets-Liabilities Committee as well as the Corporation's Investment Policy Committee.
In his commentary, "The Econtrarian," Paul addresses the housing market by taking a deep and thorough look at the data while asking the question of whether or not we are near a bottom. A further decrease in home prices would have a material effect on consumer spending and the decision making of the Fed.
Paul has a knack for taking a balanced look at the facts instead of paying attention to all of the noise generated by many media outlets. Let's take a look at this week's "Outside the Box."
Last week in my letter "Thoughts from the Frontline," I promised a more in-depth view into the housing market provided by the well respected Professor Nouriel Roubini. I also commented on how complexity theory plays into the markets with a culmination of individual events each contributing to a larger "finger of instability" that poses a recessionary threat. One such contributing variable is the U.S. housing market. This week's "Outside the Box" contains an excerpt from Mr. Roubini's blog. (This entry as well as his latest posts can be found at http://www.rgemonitor.com/blog/roubini)
Nouriel is a Professor of Economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University (see http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~nroubini/ for his Stern homepage). His applied academic research includes seminal work in international macroeconomics, global macro policies, financial crises in emerging markets and their resolution, and the reform of the international financial architecture.
Mr. Roubini continues to take a non-consensus view on the markets which is why I believe that you will find his opinions to be truly "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. Not long ago Paul had a contest to try and come up with a new name for his Positive Economic Commentary and The Econtrarian: Your Alternative to the Econsensus won out.
In this edition he turns his focus on the housing market. Many are forecasting continued strength in the housing markets and they point out that previous slow downs have not been disastrous. Although they might go back and look at the Houston, Texas market in the early-to-mid 1980's during the oil industry collapse.
Is the housing market a bubble about to burst or merely in a late winter slow down? Kasriel takes a macro look at some of the numbers behind housing and why things might be different this time and that is why it was picked for this week's Outside the Box.
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. He also contributed a Chapter to my latest book, Just One Thing, which can be purchased at www.amazon.com/justonething.
In Friday's Thoughts from the Frontline, I mentioned that Gary is less optimistic on the housing market than I am. Gary's January letter looks at 10 nonconsensus investment themes and he spent nearly half the letter on housing and makes a case for why the housing bubble may be headed for trouble. This is a topic that has received a lot of attention over the last couple of years and poses one of the largest threats to the US economy.
This letter may seem longer than most, but that is due to the numerous charts Gary uses to back up his argument. You will find this very interesting food for thought in this week's Outside the Box.
Once again we look at one of my favorite analysts and behavioral finance thinker, James Montier of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in London. James wrote a fascinating book several years ago called "Behavioural Finance: A User's Guide" and puts out ongoing research like the one we will enjoy today. Long time readers will recognize the name because I have discussed many of his ideas in my weekly letter "Thoughts From the Frontline," my book "Bull's Eye Investing" and in "Outside the Box."
This report by James explores whether there is a bubble in the US housing market. He has pulled together data from numerous sources and gives his conclusion that there is a definite bubble. In fact he does not understand how others like myself could argue otherwise and that is why it was picked for this weeks Outside the Box.