The Prime Minister of Japan recently stated that his nation was facing its worst crisis since World War II. While most of the world is focused on tragic images of floodwater and rubble, and fixated on radiation levels, there is a bigger picture to be examined – one that also includes energy, coal and the Strait of Hormuz.
Human nature draws our focus to the present. We look for immediate repercussions to a devastating world event. But the real advantage lies in understanding the broader perspective. In order to get this deeper understanding, you could choose to spend endless hours scouring global new sources day and night, constantly questioning their legitimacy and bias. Or you could take a better approach and hire a team of geopolitical experts and uber-intelligent analysts.
I use STRATFOR, a geopolitical intelligence firm, to keep me aware of the why and what comes next of situations I know will, in some form or fashion, affect me and my investments. For those of you currently experiencing full STRATFOR access via their 3-month free trial earlier this year (exclusively for Outside the Box readers), you know what I mean. For those new to this e-newsletter or if you've been hesitant to take the plunge into the thought-changing world of geopolitics - these guys are hard to beat. In today's Outside the Box I'm including this week's edition of their Geopolitical Weekly report, which fully explains the Japanese PM's concerns and puts the recent major world events, from the Middle East to the Far East, in a context we all can understand. Give it a read, and if you like what you see, <<join their mailing list>> to receive free reports like this directly to your inbox every week.
I get a lot of client letters from various managers and funds, as you might imagine. I read more than I should. But one that shows up every quarter or so makes me stop what I am doing and sit down and read. It is the quarterly letter from Hayman Advisors, based here in Dallas. They are macro guys (which I guess is part of the magnetic attraction for me), and they really put some thought into their craft and have some of the best sources anywhere. So today we take a look at their latest letter, where they cover a wide variety of topics, with cutting-edge analysis and sharp insight. I really like these guys, and suggest you take the time to read the entire letter.
Today (Tuesday) is the day I want you to start buying Endgame. The early reviews on Amazon are quite gratifying – writing a book is damn hard work, so when people say nice things it just feels good. Have a great week! Now let’s jump into the Hayman client letter.
This week we look over the Pacific pond to China and Japan, in an interview with my friend Vitaliy Katsenelson by David Galland, who is the managing editor of The Casey Report. Vitaliy is the chief investment officer of Investment Management Associates, Inc., and author of Active Value Investing. Profiled in Barron’s in September 2009, Vitaliy, who was born in Murmansk, Russia, and moved to the U.S. in 1991, is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Colorado at Denver’s Graduate School of Business.
Long time readers know that I just don’t get China or Japan. I think both are bubbles, but as Vitaliy notes, many bubbles can outlast the reputations of those predicting their demise. Timing is everything.
For those interested in subscribing to the Casey Report, which focuses on special situations and natural resources, you can get a risk-free trial subscription by going to the following link. (http://www.caseyresearch.com/crpmkt/crpSolo.php?id=175&ppref=JMD175ED1110A) It is one of my favorite reads.
Have a great Thanksgiving week!
I wrote about Greece in last week's letter. Then I ran across this column in the Financial Times by my friend Mohammed El-Erian, chief executive of Pimco, and someone who qualifies to be introduced as one of the smartest men on the planet. It is short and to the point. (www.pimco.com)
And finally, many of you are probably familiar with TED Talks. If you are not, you should be. They basically get very smart, creative people to come in and do short talks Tiffani just sent me one of their latest videos. 13 minutes. It blew me away. The world of Minority Report is here, 40 years ahead of schedule. All I could do was just say "Wow!" Its young men like this that should make us all optimists that somehow we will figure out how to get through all this. http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/685
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.
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.
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....
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.
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. And this week's letter does just that. I have made the comment more than once that is it unusual for two major bubbles to burst and for the conversation and our experience to be rising inflation and not a serious problem with deflation.
Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt give us a seminar 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.
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.
Hoisington Investment Management Company (www.hoisingtonmgt.com) is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the firm has over $4-billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies. And their track record over the last 20 years suggests we should pay attention. And now let's jump right in to the essay.
It is important to understand the thinking of those who are in fact making the decisions at the Fed and Treasury. In today's Outside the Box, Paul McCulley, Managing Director at PIMCO, gives us some insight into the thinking that is driving the massive stimulus and bailout programs. Whether or not you agree, it is important to have a handle on what is actually happening and the thinking behind it.
As a bonus, let me give you a link to David Kotok's excellent and very clear analysis of the Public-Private Investment Program (PPIP). The PIPP is basically a call option financed by the US tax-payer. David shows us why as tax-payers we should be concerned. You can read it for your self http://www.cumber.com/commentary.aspx?file=032909.asp&n=l_mc. Have a great week!
What happens when inflation once again returns. As this week's Outside the Box writer, James Montier, writes, we may want to start thinking now about inflation insurance and he mentions a few ways to do so. But this letter is a must read for his bringing to light a speech by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke in 2000 given to the Japanese, where he suggest inflation targeting:
"In the speech, he laid out a menu of policy options that are available to the monetary authorities at the zero bound. First, aggressive currency depreciation, as per Romer's analysis of the end of the Great Depression. Second on Bernanke's list is the introduction of an inflation target to help mould the public's expectations about the central bank's desire for inflation. He mentions the range of 3-4%!"
I think you will find this week's OTB to be exceptionally thought provoking. Montier is one of my favorite economic thinkers (and a good friend). He works for Societe Generale in London in their Cross Asset Research group.
Have you done your Christmas shopping yet? Research shows that more of us are putting it off in expectations of better prices. In other words deflationary expectations! The prices I have seen while out shopping the past few weeks are simply amazing. I have to admit to have made a few purchases for some items that I was not planning to buy just yet because prices were off by 60% or more. A few days ago a friend came in sporting a new black cashmere sweater top with jeweled embroidery and quite fancy. She said she got it at Saks. But the real story is that when she walked into Saks looking for a present for her kids they handed her a coupon with a 30% off any one item from whatever price it was already marked down. That top? At one point it was almost $500. She bought it for $75. I have to confess that made me worry about retail sales and future unemployment. I like low prices, but I like profitable companies and employment. I went and talked to a Saks salesperson a few weeks ago who had been there 25 years and asked if they had ever discounted like that before Christmas and he said never. It was Saturday in New York and the place looked busy. I asked why? And he said, "The store is empty during the week." And I bought a few sweaters at 60% off. Tiffani just got some presents from J Crew at over 60% off. Before Christmas! How many readers have seen the same sales? And yet shopping is down?
As a side note, this year most of the kids and in-laws are all going to get a Visa gift cards so they can take advantage of what I think are going to be even better sales after Christmas. It is not that Dad put off his shopping to the last minute (which I did) but the kids are really looking forward to finding their special items on sale. I wonder how many more are doing that?
This week we look at David Rosenberg's latest missive. While listing a number of negative data points, the thing to watch for is all the deflationary news. I have been pounding the table for YEARS that deflation is going to be the problem, and there would be massive stimulus from the Fed to fight it. We are now coming to that inflection point. Rosenberg is one of my favorite main stream economists and the North American Economist for Merrill Lynch. I would say enjoy this week's Outside the Box, but it is not enjoyable reading, but you should read it anyway.
Have a Merry Christmas. And enjoy the after Christmas sales! All the best,
This week in Outside the Box we turn our eyes on Japan and as promised offer a report by macro-maven and good friend Greg Weldon. Japan is the world's second largest economy and a major source of liquidity. While China has captured the headlines in Asia, Japan is still the big economic dog and supplier of capital on the block.
Greg argues that there is the potential for another asset bubble popping in Japan at the same time as we see our housing market and subprime mortgages implode. That could have considerable implications for world wide liquidity and the yen carry trade.
While this prints out longer than usual, it is mostly charts, as Greg likes to illustrate his thinking with lots of graphs. Follow his logic and reasoning. He is pointing out a potential problem that no one else I know is paying attention to. At the end is an offer for a trial subscription to his work, which I find quite valuable.
I probably get as many questions about gold as I do any subject. The fascination with the yellow metal permeates all levels of investors, and opinions can be quite strong. But few are more informed than those of good friend and trader extraordinaire, Greg Weldon.
Greg has written a new book called "Gold Trading Boot Camp, how to Master the Basics and Become a Successful Commodities Investor." I highly recommend it for those wanting to get a grasp of how a successful trader's mind works. Greg is one of the best and maybe the most prolific commentators on market trends. Up well before dawn each day, he is a machine. Each day he produces 15-20 pages of in-depth commentary on a huge variety of topics, both fundamental and technical, that informs some of the top trading desks in the world.
I asked him to give us some idea of what his book is about and then give us a top down view of the market for gold as it stands today. For those of you who follow gold, or are merely curious, I think you will find this fascinating.
You can get the book at Amazon.com. It is very readable. Greg has an effortless, unique style that is fun, fast-paced and easy to comprehend with not a lot of technical jargon to make it hard for the beginner yet enough insights that the professionals will be taking lots of notes.
Get the book and enjoy this week's Outside the Box.
About a month or so back I wrote about some of my thoughts regarding interest rates and monetary policy being affected by both velocity and the money supply (see When Will the Fed Stop?). In my letter, I highlighted some exceptional research performed by my good friends at GaveKal. Well they have done it again, this time turning their attention towards Japan and the global economy.
Founded in 1999 by Charles and Louis-Vincent Gave and Anatole Kaletsky, GaveKal is a global investment research and management firm that provides an array of financial services worldwide. They are best known for their study of monetary policy, fiscal policies, secular trends, technical analysis and asset class valuations which they use to form a unique perspective on the relationship between the financial markets and the global economy.
In "What We Missed: Japanese Liquidity Flows," we are presented with an in-depth analysis of the role of Japan amongst the growing interconnectedness of today's financial markets. Both the past and current decisions of Japan's policy makers have had a profound effect on the global economies that has produced a new metric which they call the "international yield curve." I think that you will find this study to be as equally intriguing as I have. It is, indeed, outside of the box thinking.
This week's letter is by Richard Duncan who is the author of one of my favorite books called The Dollar Crisis: Causes, Consequences, Cures. Richard is based in Hong Kong and is one of the more thoughtful financial analysts I know.
Many people have talked about Federal Reserve Governor Ben Bernanke's printing press speech in 2002, which created quite a storm with the media and financial writers. Richard notes that he repeated the theme of that speech while in Japan in 2003, but unlike us the Japanese ran with the idea. In this piece he looks at how Japan printing ¥35 trillion may have been the cause for world reflation in 2002-03.
Richard lays out the facts, the evidence, and the results of turning on the printing presses and that is why it was picked for this week's Outside the Box.
This week's research comes once again from the GaveKal Ad Hoc Comment publication, however this piece was done by Anatole Kaletsky, a different analyst than the previous reports we have highlighted. This group is located in Hong Kong and I always find their comments on Asia very insightful.
The report takes a look at some of the structural players in the U.S. bond market and why their actions may be causing the longer term bond rates to stay low. The largest catalyst surprisingly is Japanese private purchasers of US bonds. The reasons are not the subject of work I have read elsewhere and they will continue to buy until conditions improve in Japan's investment markets. This is a different look at the issue than you see from most economists and why I chose it for this week's Outside the Box.