This week we look at two brief essays for your Outside the Box. The first is my friend Barry Habib talking to us about where mortgage rates are headed. Barry gives us a very simple, but logical analysis on why rates are headed up. Then we jump to Spencer Jakab writing in the Financial Times about the problems in the municipal markets. Seems we may be under funded on our public pensions by about $3.5 trillion. As a tease to his column:
"Taking a page out of Greece's playbook, the peeved treasurer of America's largest state fired off letters this week to the chiefs of Goldman Sachs and other banks questioning their marketing of credit default swaps on California's debt . The instruments, he complained, "wrongly brand our bonds as a greater risk than those issued by such nations as Kazakhstan."
"Insulting indeed, but who exactly should be insulted?"
It helps if you have seen Borat, or at least a trailer, but the message is the same.
I am off to Phoenix and San Diego, the NYC next week, so I will be writing on the road. Have a great week.
It has long been my contention that we are entering an extraordinary period of time in which using historical analogies to plot market behavior is going to become increasingly problematical. In short, the analogies, the past performance if you will, all break down because the underlying economic backdrop is unlike anything we have ever seen. It makes managing money and portfolio planning particularly challenging. Traditional asset management techniques just simply may not work. Buy and hope strategies may be particularly difficult to navigate.
Part of the reason we are co challenged in our outlook is that we are experiencing a deleveraging on a scale in the world that is absolutely breath-taking in its scope. And to balance that, governments are going to have to issue massive amounts of sovereign debt to deal with their deficits. But who will buy it, and at what price? And in which currency? This week's Outside the Box gives us some very basic data points that illustrate the challenge very well. But the problem is that even though we can see the challenge, it is not clear what the final outcome will be, other than stressful volatility as the market reacts.
This week's OTB is by my good friends and business partners in London, Niels Jensen and his team at Absolute Return Partners. 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.
Yesterday I sent you an Outside the Box from Paul McCulley who supports the government and Fed activity (in general) in the current economic crisis. Today we look at an opposing view from Bennet Sedacca of Atlantic Advisors. He asks some very interesting questions like:
- Shouldn't the consumer, after decades of over-consumption, be allowed to digest the over-indebtedness and save, rather than be encouraged to take risk?
- Shouldn't companies, no matter what of view, if run poorly, be allowed to fail or forced to restructure?
- Should taxpayer money be used to make up for the mishaps at financial institutions or should we allow them to wallow in their own mistakes?
I think you will find this a very thought-provoking Outside the Box.
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.
We are in a world far different than the one I learned about in economic text books. As I have written, the shadow banking system of hedge funds and CDOs, CLOs, PIPES, etc. have created a new financing economic reality far different than the traditional banking system was just 20 years ago. Does the Fed have the tools in its toolkit to deal with the new reality?
This week, Bill Gross of Pimco fame looks at the problem in a manner that is truly Outside the Box. Bill Gross has been called "the nation's most prominent bond investor," by the New York times, managing Pimco's Total Return Fund, the world's largest bond fund.
Enjoy your week.
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.
On Friday, I wrote my annual forecast, "The Goldilocks Recession," on what investment themes I expect in the coming year. This week's Outside the Box will follow up on the subject with an excellent piece written by Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt. In their fourth quarter review of 2006, they address how the current status of the bond market measures up against historical interest rates and inflation. From there, each of the six major sectors of the economy, Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), Residential Investment, Nonresidential Fixed Investment, Government Expenditures, Inventory Investment, and Net Exports, are covered specifically and analyzed to depict the trends for 2007.
This letter is one of the more in-depth and fundamentally heavy articles I've featured as it is chock-full of data, or what I like to call the "hard facts." Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt have done a stellar job collecting a great deal of information and dissecting it to form some well-thought investment conclusions. For those of you unfamiliar with Hoisington Investment Management, the firm is a registered investment advisor specializing in fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients. Located in Austin, Texas, the company has over $3.5-billion under management, composed of corporate and public funds, foundations, endowments, Taft-Hartley funds, and insurance companies.
Each year presents its own set of both opportunities and risks for us investors. I trust that you will find value in this Outside the Box and use it to form your own independent investment conclusions.
With so many variables to weigh in on, there has been a lot of speculation going around about how Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke, is going to fare in his rookie season. The headlines of the financial press have been filled with reports of inflation and the dollar, but what of the U.S. housing market that once demanded so much investor attention?
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. He advises the Bank's Assets-Liabilities Committee as well as the Corporation's Investment Policy Committee.
Paul looks at the U.S. housing market in light of the Fed's recent actions and their effects on mortgage rates. He is in the "soft landing" camp for the recent slowdown in real estate but warns of what could happen to the market if a bubble were to burst. Now, let's take a look at this week's "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 is by good friend Paul McCulley, Managing Director of PIMCO. About once a year he puts together an economic debate between his favorite friend and family pet rabbit, Morgan Le Fay. It always presents a very readable look at global economics and a forecast of what could be ahead.
My Friday letter, Thoughts from the Frontline, included a graph that looked at GDP growth and mortgage equity withdrawals (MEW) and Paul explores what could happen if MEWs come to an end, or at least slow down. McCulley once again takes a look at Bretton Woods II, the housing marketing in the US and what might lead to a slowdown in the economy for 2006.
This is an important piece to help you in your understanding of the issues surrounding the debt, trade and housing bubbles. I am going to touch on a few of his ideas next Saturday in my weekly letter, particularly the quote from around the middle of this essay that has his rabbit asking the following question (MLF throughout are the initials for Morgan Le Fay:
"MLF: So, the housing bubble, or whatever you want to call it, ain't America's fault, but rather the Emerging World's fault?
"PM: No, Morgan, it isn't anybody's fault; it just is. When the Emerging World decided to shift from being a net user to a net provider of savings, those savings had to go somewhere, they had to finance something. Otherwise, the entire world would have fallen into a liquidity trap, triggering a global depression."
Read this when you have some time to think about it. In a few weeks I will be putting together my forecast for next year and I am on the lookout for opinions, like McCulley's, that can help us think 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.