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,
The credit crisis is global. Interestingly, some of the more creative and straight forward solutions are coming from England. This week in Outside the Box I am presenting you with a very well written (even entertaining) letter from Bedlam Asset Management from London www.bedlamplc.com on their view of the crisis. It is always instructive to look at your problems from the point of view of another party, and even more some when they give you some thoughtful and cogent analysis.
I have to admit, seeing green on my screen feels good, but we are in a recession that is global and is likely to get worse. What we need to do now is assess what our response will be. First, we need to avoid the pitfalls and then look around for the opportunities which will be presented us. I think this week's Outside the Box will help you think through your personal situation.
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.
This week's Outside the Box will challenge a few of your base assumptions. Paul McCulley, the managing director at PIMCO, offers us a kind word for inflation and the reasons that the Fed will be on hold for a lot longer than the markets currently think. And part of that is to avoid a real recession or even a depression. Getting this debate right is important.
These are indeed interesting times we live in. I look forward to being with Paul at the end of July on our Maine fishing expedition, where he can defend his proposition to the group of economists and analysts gathered there. Have a great week.
This week in Outside the Box we look at two brief essays which give us different perspective on the Continuing Crisis. The first is by Mohamed El-Erian, the co-chief executive and co-chief investment officer of Pimco. His book, 'When Markets Collide: Investment Strategies for the Age of Global Economic Change', will be published by McGraw Hill in June, and it will be on my summer reading list. El-Erian argues in the thought-provoking piece from the Financial Times that the crisis is still far from finished, and that those who think we are returning to more placid times may be surprised when volatility suddenly becomes even more pervasive.
The second is by good friend and Maine fishing buddy David Kotok, the chief investment officer of Cumberland Asset Managers (www.cumber.com). He was recently in Africa where he met with the head of the central bank of a small country with headline inflation of 10%. The problem is that "core inflation" is 5% and food inflation is 15%, yet accounts for 50% of the GDP. He asked a group of financial thinkers (including your humble analyst) to ponder what that central banker should do. Do you set high rates and target overall inflation or set lower rates and not worry about food inflation.
Why should we worry about inflation in a small African country? Because the principles are the same, and it makes a real difference where the Fed comes down at the end of the day on this very question.
This week's reading should be very helpful and thought-provoking. I hope you enjoy this read as much as I did.
This week we will look at what will be a fairly controversial essay by good friend Michael Lewitt of HCM. In light of today's speech by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson of the re-organization of the regulatory system in the US, Michael suggest we look at what the real problems are before we begin the process of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. For many, some of what he says will be considered economic heresy. I do not agree with all of it (though I am in solid agreement on most of it), and look forward to talking with him in a few weeks in La Jolla when we are together. But the point of Outside the Box is not to find material that I or you agree with or that makes us comfortable, but something which causes us to think through our own opinions and biases.
But this is a debate that absolutely must happen if we are to move forward and away from the current crisis and to somehow see if we can avoid yet another crisis in five years. Simply adding new regulations without changing the incentive nature of the markets will not fix the things that really matter. None of us should cry when some fund that is leveraged 30 to 1 goes down and investors get wiped out. What were they thinking anyway? But when a fund or investment bank is so big that its demise threatens the system that we participate in, something is wrong in the way our society manages risk. Simply bailing out big banks is not an adequate regulatory response. While it may work for the immediate moment, it does not solve the longer term issues.
Please feel free to forward this letter to anyone you think should be part of that debate process.
This week's Outside the Box is going to be a little different. I am going to write about the extraordinary action by the NY Fed to foster the Bear Stearns deal with JP Morgan, and give you three brief notes from Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital Management and Bob Eisenbeis (former executive vice-president of the Federal Reserve of Atlanta) of Cumberland Advisors.
Caroline Baum is one of my favorite financial columnists, who writes with a voice of calm reason. She writes for Bloomberg, and I encourage you to read her regularly. This week she touches on the problems in the markets and the continuing calls for government intervention.
Things are coming loose in an ever-widening array of markets in the financial world. No one is suggesting that the subprime problems will be contained, as almost every authority figure did last summer. We now know that everything is seemingly connected, a theme that I have written about for years.
So, what should be done now? Read Caroline's brilliant note for one surprising answer.
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.
This week we look at a very thoughtful essay by an old Outside the Box friend James Montier. James is now working at Societe Generale in London. He is one of the truly great minds on the psychology of investing, as well as proving great research on how to structure your portfolio. IN this week's essay, entitled "the Dash to Trash and the Grab for Growth," James shows how investors tend to do the wrong thing at the wrong time in times of market volatility. This is a longer letter with lots of graphs, and there is an executive summary at the beginning, but I suggest you read then when you have 15-20 minutes to really concentrate. You will be a better investor when you do.
This week we do something a little different in our Outside the Box. Every weekend I get a very information-filled blog called Investment Postcards from Cape Town (http://www.investmentpostcards.com) by Dr. Prieur du Plessis. In it he highlights what he thinks is the most important portion of the writings of 10 to 15 analysts from around the world on the state of the economy and investing, and summarizes the news and data. I find it very useful, as Prieur generally finds a lot of interesting pieces that I miss and go on to read in my effort to stay on top of the markets. You can subscribe on your own if you like by activating the subscription option on the blog.
Dr. Prieur du Plessis is chairman of the Plexus group of companies, which is a well established money management firm in South Africa, one part of which is essentially the Morningstar of South African mutual funds. And I am proud to say he is my South African partner.
In the second installment of our special two day Outside the Box letter, we have good friend Greg Weldon's giving us his thoughts in his regular "Weldon's Money Monitor." Consumer expenditures account for approximately 2/3rds of U.S. GDP. A precursor to any underlying changes in consumer expenditures is consumer sentiment. Greg explains to us the state of the American consumer and how current federal and institutional initiatives will not help thwart the looming recession. You can read his work at www.weldononline.com.
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.
Today's Outside the Box is a very interesting piece written by Louis-Vincent Gave and the team at GaveKal entitled "Part 2: So What Should We Worry About?" His article is a follow up to an earlier one that he wrote on why he, and the rest of the GaveKal team, had been bullish on the markets a couple of months ago. This letter is to answer the question "what could go wrong" with their previous outlook in light of the recent market climate.
For those of you unfamiliar with GaveKal, the firm was started in the late 1990s in London by Charles Gave, Louis-Vincent Gave and Anatole Kaletsky. GaveKal is a research firm, focusing on macro economics and tactical asset allocation for institutional clients around the world. Louis-Vincent is the CEO of GaveKal where he contributes frequently to the research and was the main author of their books Our Brave New World and The End is Not Nigh.
Let me make a quick remark regarding the latter of his 2 books. The End is Not Nigh has just recently been released and I highly recommend it as a good read. It is a great example of a book that presents a positive view of not just the markets but of the developing world as well. You can purchase the book directly from their website (www.gavekal.com) or through Amazon.
I trust that you will enjoy this week's Outside the Box from the always thought-provoking Louis-Vincent Gave.
With a new year just weeks away, investors are weighing expectations and asking questions about what lies ahead. Each year presents its own set of opportunities and challenges, especially in are ever-increasing global economy. Today's "Outside the Box" features a letter by Stephen Roach on the impending transitions of this interconnected marketplace.
Stephen S. Roach is Managing Director and Chief Economist of Morgan Stanley, and is widely recognized as one of Wall Street's most influential economists. His published research has covered a broad range of topics, with recent emphasis on globalization, the emergence of China, productivity, and the capital market implications of global imbalances. In his letter "Global Transitions," Roach analyzes the sources of past growth amidst the backdrop of a global economy and highlights the forthcoming changes on where to expect it from next. In addition, he addresses the growing "consensus" of the soft-landing scenario for U.S. housing.
On a side note, Roach mentions a companion piece by his normally bullish colleague, Richard Berner. In "It's a 'Growth Recession,' Not a Lasting Downturn," Richard not only forecasts lower growth but also lower profits. To view the article, click here and then scroll down.
I hope these articles help to form your investment outlook from a global viewpoint...enjoy. For what it's worth, I will be on CNBC at 7:45 this Tuesday morning talking about hedge funds.