Outside the Box, February 2020


Outside the Box was retired on April 25, 2018, to make way for the new and improved premium research service, Over My Shoulder.

If you’re interested in joining John Mauldin, Patrick Watson, and the thousands of Over My Shoulder subscribers as they analyse important research several times a week, please click here to find out how you can subscribe for less than $10 per month.

Us vs. Them

April 25, 2018

This is the final Outside the Box. It is a little emotional to me, like parting with an old friend. How can one possibly sum up almost 14 years? Well, quite simply, you can’t. I would like to say, however, that it is been my extraordinary pleasure to send out more than 600 issues of Outside the Box, and I sincerely hope they helped your research and thinking.

While reminiscing on Outside the Box this week, I meandered through the archives and stopped at the very first issue, sent on September...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook, First Quarter 2018

April 18, 2018

Lacy Hunt is in the very top rank of US economists. He would have made an excellent Fed chairman, if you ask me (no one did who mattered); but he goes on holding down the fort, along with partner Van Hoisington, at Hoisington Investment Management in Austin; and so you and I continue to have the benefit of Lacy and Van’s quarterly updates, which I always feature here in Outside the Box.

Today’s is an amazing piece of academic economic analysis. Lacy and Van kick it off with this trenchant...

Fed “Policy Mistakes” – a View from Across the Pond

April 11, 2018

I have talked at length in recent months about the well-proven limitations of Federal Reserve modeling of the economy. (See for instance “Data-Dependent ... on Imaginary Data.”) And come to think of it, I’ve been on their case for years. The Fed’s predictive capacities are demonstrably abysmal. In today’s Outside the Box, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the intrepid international business editor of the Daily Telegraph of London, joins the fray.

Ambrose’s criticism of the Fed’s current posture on...

Is Risk-Free Really Risk-Free?

April 4, 2018

In Outside the Box I try to bring you ideas that are, well, outside the box. This is increasingly important as we all find ourselves locked into confined social, political, and economic spaces that prevent us from seeing different perspectives. Often those perspectives are important, and sometimes they’re critical.

If you're looking for the 'next Bitcoin'... You're missing the bigger picture.

Today we will go even further outside the box than usual and consider a thought that is practically unspeakable to many. Is short-term US Treasury debt really “risk-free,” as...

Question Your Assumptions

March 28, 2018

I always thought I would learn more as I grew older. In fact, the opposite is happening: The older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. Maybe that’s why my search for answers seems to widen and intensify each year.

If you're looking for the 'next Bitcoin'... You're missing the bigger picture.

Our questions differ, but we’re all seeking answers. Our digital technologies, led by search, theoretically make it easy to find answers, too – but they aren’t necessarily the right ones. This is a growing problem. Whatever crazy thing you want to believe, a quick...

What is up?/Inflation

March 14, 2018

Folks, John Mauldin is feeling ill today, so this is Patrick Watson jumping in to help. John’s doctor has ordered him to stay in bed and not even think about the economy for 24 hours. He is now snoozing, but before signing off asked me to select today’s Outside the Box story.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to look too far. The prolific Peter Boockvar has a very interesting reaction to today’s Producer Price Index report. I’m skeptical of the rising-inflation narrative. I see inflation in certain...

Why American Workers Aren’t Getting A Raise: An Economic Detective Story

March 7, 2018

Something was really bugging Jonathan Tepper: In a growing economy with a booming stock market, why were workers’ wages growing so slowly? As a trained economist and investment advisor, he knew he had all the tools for understanding the problem; yet his firm’s leading indicator for wages, which had worked accurately for decades, had broken down badly from 2014 forward:

So Jonathan dug in and did a lot of research and came up with a convincing multipart answer – which is today’s Outside the...

The Middle of an Era

February 28, 2018

“We see through a glass darkly,” said the Apostle Paul. That goes double when we are talking about what the future holds. There are times when I think my future-viewing lens is utterly opaque. When I investigate why my forecasts are sometimes off the mark, I generally find that I am trying to predict the short term, which is impossible, or am succumbing to the all-too-human psychological tendency to project a recent trend into the far future. Seeing as how I doubt that I would want us to move...

QE and Its Apologists

February 21, 2018

My friend Tom Bentley sends me political rants every day and then attaches an article from someone. Today’s is from Brian Wesbury, a brilliant economist who packs a thoughtful free-market punch. I mention Tom because I want to also pass on you the note he sent me this morning, introducing Brian. Here’s an excerpt (and Tom’s full note appears below, as a preface to Brian’s piece):

As we continue to suffer under the blizzard of bullshit about everything put out by both sides, and hugely...

Kill the Quants

February 7, 2018

In the past few days we have heard endless explanations for the market’s big “Oops!” and the return of volatility. The commentary has centered on the Fed and its sister central banks as they begin to batten down the hatches on inflation and trim their balance sheets (prematurely, in my view).

In the midst of all the hoopla – and for a long time before the recent Day of Reckoning – my good friend Doug Kass has been something of a voice shouting at us from the wildnerness, with the resounding...

A Decade of Dirtnap

January 31, 2018

In today’s Outside the Box, we finish up our 8-part Strategic Investment Conference Speaker Series. It’s been quite a ride and I hope you’ve enjoyed Mark Yusko’s letter to fellow investors… George Friedman’s big call on the future of the EU… Niall Ferguson’s take on the “antisocial networks”… Grant Williams’ treatise on the consequences of excessive quantitative easing… Louis Gave’s thoughtful questions for 2018… David McWilliams’ lesson from history on speculative behavior… and Lacy Hunt’s...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook

January 24, 2018

We continue our 8-part SIC Speaker Series today with my good friend Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management. In their fourth-quarter 2017 review and outlook, Lacy and partner Van Hoisington take a definitely contrarian stance on the coming year.



How are some of the world’s top portfolio managers and geopolitical experts preparing for A World Full of Risk & Reward? Find out...

Reserve your seat...

The Seven Deadly Sins

January 17, 2018

It’s week 6 of our 8-week SIC Speaker Series, and we have with us David McWilliams, Irish economist, author, and broadcaster, who I first met when, on the first evening of my first-ever trip to Ireland in 2011, he invited me to attend the opening night of a classic and much-loved Irish play by Sean O’Casey, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (also known as the National Theatre of Ireland). I learned that the year before David had staged his own one-man show at the Abbey, called Outsiders. It had a...

Questions for the Coming Year

January 10, 2018

Today, in week 5 of our 8-week SIC Speaker Series, I give you Louis-Vincent Gave, the Hong Kong-based CEO and founding partner of Gavekal. Louis always brings an abundance of fresh, actionable insights to the Strategic Investment Conference, and you’ll get a taste of what’s in store as Louis shares his “Questions for the Coming Year” with us in today’s Outside the Box.

Being an Alpha Society member can help you…

Build a profitable portfolio


Grant Williams on Peak Easing

January 3, 2018

Grant Williams is the inimitable creator of Things That Make You Go Hmmm…, a weekly tour de force production that Grant authors, illustrates, and assembles. He opens each week with a long, probing, and often wryly humorous essay and then moves on to selections from and commentary on the week’s leading global macro stories.

No one does it like Grant, and so this week he’s the fourth in our Outside the Box series of eight speakers who will be among the (many!) headliners at my upcoming Strategic...

Why Twitter, Facebook and Google Are the Antisocial Networks

December 27, 2017

In today’s Outside the Box we resume our eight-part Strategic Investment Conference Speaker Series with my friend Niall Ferguson, senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford and the Center for European Studies at Harvard. Niall has a cautionary tale for us on the topic of social networks.

The problem, in a nutshell:

Facebook certainly made an impact last year, but not quite the impact the young Zuckerberg had in mind in his Harvard dorm. A committed believer in globalisation who tends...

Europe’s Era of Harmony Is Over

December 20, 2017

No one else I know can muster as much deep experience and insight into the sprawling, incendiary world of geopolitics as my good friend George Friedman, founder and chairman of Geopolitical Futures; and in today’s Outside the Box – part 2 of my 8-part SIC Speaker Series – George brings all his powers to bear to issue quite a declamatory statement on the present and future of the European Union.

George’s argument can be summarized as “the center cannot hold.” With Brexiteers on its western...

Mark Yusko Hits a Four-Bagger

December 13, 2017

My friend Mark Yusko, founder and chief investment officer of Morgan Creek Capital Management, is a phenomenon; and when you read his third-quarter letter, excerpted in today’s Outside the Box, you’ll see what I mean. His missive (a 72-pager!), has two main parts: a “Letter to Fellow Investors” and Morgan Creek’s “Third Quarter Market Review and Outlook.”

Now, I could subject you to the latter, but the former is a heck of a lot more fun. It’s an amazing disquisition that takes us deep into the...

Does Amazon Create Jobs? Well, It Hired 75,000 Robots in 2017

December 6, 2017

Like millions of other people, I am a fan and a user of Amazon. They do make buying things convenient, especially little things that you might have to go to art specialty stores to find. I’m a huge user of the Kindle app on my iPad, especially since I learned that I do not technically own the books I buy from the Apple bookstore. If I ever wanted to migrate away from an Apple product, I could not take my books that I purchased on Apple to a competing platform.

Not only can I do that with the...

McKinsey: Automation may wipe out 1/3 of America’s workforce by 2030

November 29, 2017

As I’ve been working on my new book, The Age of Transformation, the chapter on the future of work has been the most challenging one to think and write about; and so I’m always on the lookout for good thinking and new data. Now, McKinsey & Co. has come out with a comprehensive report on the predicted near-future effects of automation on employment.

International in scope, the report, entitled “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation,” takes us a big step closer...

Seeking Value in an Expensive World

November 22, 2017

I am in Milan Malpensa and beginning a 17-hour journey back to Dallas for Thanksgiving.

But deadlines loom. This afternoon I got this brief note from good friend David Rosenberg, chief econ at Gluskin Sheff, and find myself nodding firmly in agreement. Rosie throws in a quick head feint by telling us that he’s not investing around Trumponomics at all, but then he dives into a really helpful examination of what we have to do to find value in today’s overvalued world.

Rosie will of course be...

NFIB Small Business Economic Trends – October 2017

November 15, 2017

Today’s Outside the Box is a report that most of you have read about or seen quoted but have never actually seen directly. It is the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) Small Business Economic Trends monthly report, which they have done since 1973. It was at first a quarterly and then switched to a monthly in 1985. It is thus a continuous record of the ups and downs of small business trends and moods, and is a great barometer of the economy.

The man in charge of the index, my...

Saudi Arabia’s Saturday Night Massacre

November 8, 2017

This weekend, while we here in the US were focused on the upcoming election and President Trump’s visit to Asia, a powerful drama with vast geopolitical implications played out in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammad bin Salman, the king’s son, is the de facto ruler of the country and has been making increasingly aggressive moves in an attempt to shift Saudi Arabia from its status as an ultraconservative oil-producing nation to a 21st-century manufacturing superpower with social mores to match. In doing so...

What Will the Next Crisis Look Like?

November 3, 2017

One of the main topics of discussion everywhere I go is, what will the next crisis look like; along with: Where will it come from; what will the market response be; and what will be the source of the volatility? There is always volatility during a crisis.

I have been saying in writing for some time that I think the next crisis will reveal how little liquidity there is in the credit markets, especially in the high-yield, lower-rated space. Dodd–Frank has greatly limited the ability of banks to...

Is the Bubble Economy Set to Burst?

October 25, 2017

My friend Andy Xie, based in Shanghai, is a very independent-minded investment analyst and economist. With a PhD from MIT, he has been at the IMF and was a star economist for the Morgan Stanley Asia-Pacific group. His ofttimes bearish calls on various parts of the Chinese economy have elicited a lot of criticism from Chinese officials and retail investors. I have been on the stage with him several times, both on the same side of debates and on opposite sides – he is a formidable opponent! We do...

Just own the damn robots.

October 18, 2017

If you spend any time watching CNBC, you know who “Downtown Josh Brown” is. He is a thoughtful analyst on the markets and someone I consider a friend. He writes a blog called The Reformed Broker that I think can properly be characterized as irreverent.

His latest letter is an Outside the Box way of thinking about the current bull market. I’m not sure whether he is offering this tongue in cheek or not, but he is speaking to the same thing that I’ve been talking about for quite some time: the...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook, Third Quarter 2017

October 11, 2017

Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington of Hoisington Investment Management do not exactly get us off to a hopeful start in their third-quarter review, today’s Outside the Box:

The worst economic recovery of the post-war period will continue to be restrained by a consumer sector burdened by paltry income growth, a low and falling saving rate, and an increasingly restrictive Federal Reserve policy. Additionally, with the extremely high level of U.S. government debt and deteriorating fiscal situation, the...

The Catalan Question and the Future of Europe

October 4, 2017

It is 5 AM in Lisbon, and I am sitting in an airport lounge with wifi, writing this week’s OTB on my iPad, clumsily. GaveKal has written a very candid analysis of the Catalonia vote/debacle, which was a hot topic at the conference where I was speaking – Spain is right next door. There were numerous past and current foreign ministers and other parliamentary leaders here, all very pro-EU, and they were aghast at Rajoy’s heavy-handed response.

Howewver, they all agreed that Catalonia could never...

Low Inflation Is No “Mystery”

September 27, 2017

When is a mystery not a mystery? When Janet Yellen is puzzling over a lack of inflation, that’s when. So say Brian Wesbury, chief economist, and Robert Stein, deputy chief economist of First Trust, in today’s Outside the Box. The bottom line: QE didn’t work, and Janet knew it was unlikely to work, from the start.

So where did all that easy money go? I think I’ll let the authors tell you. I think you’ll enjoy this brief, clear-headed essay.

The essay was sent to me along with a rant by my...

Yet Again?

September 20, 2017

This week’s Outside the Box is from one of my favorite writers and analysts. Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital is simply an investing legend. He writes several “memos” a year on the world of investing, and I put quotes around the word memos because they are typically longer than what you would think of as a memo. This week’s selection is reduced from the full memo, which you can see here.

(And for those who are wondering what I omitted, Howard did a long section on Bitcoin that I had to edit...

On Swamp Draining in Texas, Florida … and DC

September 13, 2017

For this week’s Outside the Box we have a two-parter of short essays. They are unrelated but equally important. First, in “Time to Drain the Fed Swamp,” Brian Wesbury and colleagues at First Trust make the case that it was the private sector, not the federal government or the Fed, that saved the economy after the Panic of 2008. The Fed has outgrown its britches, they argue, and it’s time to fill the Board of Governors chair and vice-chair positions with people who will hold the Fed to account...

Irving Fisher and Japan

September 6, 2017

Outside the Box, for a number of new readers who have joined us, is a letter in which I feature someone else's work each week, and often it is a view contrary to mine. I have to continually remind readers that just because I include something in an Outside the Box doesn't mean that I agree with it. I think it pays us to read people we don't agree with.

John Maynard Keynes was an enormously influential economist, but some of his detractors complained that the opinions he expressed tended to...

China: Q2 Early Look Brief

August 30, 2017

Leland Miller is a leading expert on China’s financial system and a good friend. He and his colleagues publish the China Beige Book, which is actually a whole series of distinct products. They regularly interview (if memory serves correctly) about 2000 large Chinese companies in every sector to get a good idea of what is actually happening in the Chinese economy. There is nothing else like their work, and anybody who is investing large sums or who just does business in China gladly pays the...

Doesn’t Matter, Doesn’t Matter, Matters!

August 23, 2017

In Outside the Box today, good friend and at various times business partner Steve Blumenthal reveals a very useful character flaw and follows up our shared experience at Camp Kotok with some perceptive observations about things he heard there that matter. He also shares his notes on a recent interview of Ray Dalio by Bloomberg’s Tom Keene and Mike McKee. Here, he says, is the stuff that matters most!

I really liked the theme he developed about matters and does not matter. When he writes the...

Wages vs. Jobs

August 16, 2017

In Outside the Box today, my good friend Gary Shilling draws some crucial distinctions with respect to wage and jobs and explains why our perplexing US labor market is actually quite rational. Gary shares with me a fundamental optimism regarding our prospects for long-term economic growth, and in this report he tells us why.

This kind of in-depth dissection of macro trends is what Gary is known for. You can learn more about subscribing to his monthly Insight report and take advantage of a...

Amazon and Walmart Battle for Retail’s Future

August 9, 2017

In true Outside the Box fashion, my good friend Neil Howe has reconsidered the escalating war between Amazon and Walmart for the future of retail, and in true Neil fashion he has come up with some surprising insights. One of the takeaways here, he says, is that market “duopolies” can save consumers money – so you and I had better hope the battle isn’t resolved anytime soon. Did you know that one in five US consumers is now an Amazon Prime member? But don’t count Walmart out, Neil warns.


Camp Kotok, Here We Come!

August 2, 2017

Tomorrow I head for the backwoods of Maine and Camp Kotok – always one of the high points of my year. Most of my readers know by now that Camp Kotok is the annual fishing trip cum economics gab-fest hosted by David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors. It’s an invitation-only event that has been compared to Jackson Hole and even Davos – except that here you get to catch your own lunch.

David hatched the idea after surviving the attack on the World Trade Center, where he was attending a conference on...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook, Second Quarter 2017

July 26, 2017

I have often written about the Fed’s abysmal track record in managing the economy. In today’s Outside the Box, Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington of Hoisington Investment Management give us an in-depth tutorial on the reasons for the Fed’s consistently poor record.

They start by considering the Fed’s “dual mandate,” which sets “the goals of maximum employment, stable prices and moderate long-term interest rates.” (And yes, that is actually three goals, not two.) But a problem arises, the authors...

“You Look Like I Need a Drink”: Comments Before the National Association of Chain Drug Stores

July 12, 2017

Today’s Outside the Box is a rollicking address to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, delivered by my friend Richard Fisher, former President & CEO of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank. Richard is simply one of the most entertaining and informative thinkers I know. I cherish his thoughts and the all-too-brief times I get to be with him. He is the source of a thousand stories, and you always learn something new. In this speech he makes all the points I just made in last week’s letter –...

Hostages to History at the G-20 Summit

July 7, 2017

For this week’s Outside the Box, I again bring you the sterling work of George Friedman and his team at Geopolitical Futures. Today, George delivers a sobering analysis of the G-20 Summit now underway in Hamburg. Our leaders, he says, like to think of themselves as intrepid decision makers whose national interests are defined through their interactions with their global peers in venues like the G-20. But, he argues, history is marching on – and at a rather brisk pace these days, you may have...

Shale Oil: Another Layer of US Power

June 28, 2017

George Friedman and I have been talking regularly about pressing geopolitical issues for at least 10 years – it is a shared obsession. George and Meredith and Shane and I regularly try to get together, and sometime in August we will make our annual pilgrimage, wherein we spend a long weekend with my getting history lessons and geopolitical insights – and I try to share a little economics. I know no one else with George’s breadth and depth of insight into today’s world.

Right at the root of...

Secular Stagnation?

June 21, 2017

In today’s Outside the Box my good friend Charles Gave shares an instructive “Tale of Two Countries.” Since 1981 in the UK and France, structural growth rates have diverged: The rate has fallen by two-thirds in France, while in the UK it has risen. Why? Well, to begin with, in the UK Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister in 1979 and almost at once reduced the role of the bureaucracy in managing economic activity and dialed back government spending as a percentage of GDP. Meanwhile, in...

Where’s My Productivity, Dude?

June 14, 2017

One of the true conundrums in the macroeconomic world is the continuing drop in total global productivity over the last few decades, in spite of the growing use of computers, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Theoretically, productivity should have gone up.

Professor and Nobel laureate Robert Gordon and others have speculated the GDP growth is going to decline to less than 1%, and they have all sorts of maps to back up their claim. I’ve taken issue with their reasoning, but they makes...

Finding High-Quality Companies Today

June 7, 2017

Last week in Outside the Box, Jim Mellon shared some good advice on picking stocks in the Age of the Index Fund. Jim said,

[C]ommitted investors should make a list of companies that they really like, know about, and want to own – at the right price. If the shares of those firms are too high, put in limits, possibly 20-30% below current levels, and wait. Don’t let cash burn a hole in your pocket – let the stocks come to you, and don’t chase.

Within a day of publishing Jim’s piece, my friend...

Assume the Brace Position

May 31, 2017

My friend and British investor extraordinaire Jim Mellon, who made a large amount of money traveling the world doing real estate, is now focused on thinking about and investing in life extension and its derivatives. But he's also worried about what happens when a lot of people live longer and how we pay for it. He shares my concern about the demographic bubble that we are already in becoming even worse as we live longer than we expected. Further, he points out the same thing I have about the...

International Inflation Cycles Sync Up

May 24, 2017

My friend Lakshman Achuthan, Co-Founder & Chief Operations Officer of the Economic Cycle Research Institute (ECRI), has done some really interesting work on international inflation cycles, and in today’s Outside the Box he shares it with us. This is a special treat – ECRI does not normally make its material available outside of its client base. I am truly grateful that he allows me to share this. Lakshman will be joining us at SIC this week in Orlando, to the great benefit of the attendees.


The Deck Is Stacked

May 10, 2017

“The individual investor should act consistently as an investor and not as a speculator.”
– Ben Graham

Ben’s admonition is always true, but it’s more true at some times than others. It’s very true today, as investors go on riding the Balloon of No Hard Landings into the stratosphere, clinking their champagne glasses and avoiding looks down over the side of the basket as terra firma recedes ever further. My friend Michael Lebowitz of 720Global has already parachuted out of the balloon, and in...

When Robots Take All of Our Jobs, Remember the Luddites

May 3, 2017

If you don’t think the transformation we’re embarked upon is a profound one, consider this: Within two decades, half the jobs in this country may be performed by robots. What then of our unemployment rate and social safety net? Opinion is divided: Will the next technological wave further skew the wealth distribution toward the uber-rich, or will it ultimately create more entrepreneurial and job opportunities than it destroys?

There is an interesting historical precedent for our situation, an...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook, Q1 2017

April 26, 2017

Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington kick off their Q1 “Review and Outlook” – today’s Outside the Box – with a bang, calling our attention to the fact that in 80% of the 14 Federal Reserve tightening cycles since 1945, a recession ensued, and the Fed managed to keep the Good Ship Economy off the rocks just three times.

And, oops, we’re in the 93rd month of the current expansion, farther out to sea than we were those three times when the Fed brought us safely in to port, in 1968, 1984, and 1995.


Taxes Are Worse Than You Thought

April 21, 2017

“It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low, and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the tax rates.” 

– John F. Kennedy (Yes, a Democratic president back in the Camelot days of the early ’60s wanted to slash taxes.)

This week’s Outside the Box will make half of my readers indignant and the other half feel righteously vindicated in their thinking. I have no idea which half you are in. What is so controversial? Who pays...

The Influence of Affluence

April 12, 2017

My friend Marc Faber, publisher of the Gloom Boom & Doom Report, has never shied away from sensitive issues; and in today’s Outside the Box he tackles a big one: the relationship between asset prices and US household wealth, and the effect of that relationship on the economy.

Nominal US household wealth is at an all-time high but, says Marc, that’s mostly an illusion. The wealth of the top 0.1% has vastly improved in recent decades (and the top 10% haven’t done at all badly), but “the median...


April 5, 2017

I've read the piece that is today’s Outside the Box multiple times over the past several weeks. It’s theoretically about the music business, but it’s actually about everything. I’ve been finding it helpful as I think about my own business, and you may, too.

One major takeaway (and this is one that most of us have always known but can stand to be reminded of from time to time):

We all need to hear it from our friends. Who we might know in person or might just know online. It's about trusted...

Raoul Pal, Paying Attention

March 29, 2017

When my friend Raoul Pal – mastermind of Global Macro Investor and partners with Grant Williams in Real Vision TV – has something to say, my ears perk up. And when he leads off a piece this way, I am ALL ears:

I’m going to blow your mind with this following article. My mind is still reeling from my discovery and from writing this piece.

Turns out he’s talking about India, and more specifically, about recent advances in that nation’s technological infrastructure.

(I)t is very rare indeed that...

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds

March 22, 2017

You and I are both rational beings who let facts drive our thinking, but it seems our fellow humans are not so thoughtful. Or at least that’s what the research says. It turns out that behavioral psychologists have been undermining the bastions of human reasonability for decades, starting with some nefarious characters in the Stanford University psych department back in the ’70s, whose devilishly clever experiments were then taken a frightening step further at that equally suspect institution...

Is Mr. Market Playing the Role of Pavlov’s Dog?

March 15, 2017

David Rosenberg is one of the most respected voices in the investing world. His Breakfast with Dave goes out to thousands of appreciative subscribers nearly every business morning. He has also been the leadoff hitter at my Strategic Investment Conference every year for several years running – and this year will be no exception. He is always one of our top-rated speakers, and his energy gets the conference up and rolling.

To everyone’s surprise, Rosie turned bullish in a big way at SIC six...

“Trump-O-Nomics”—An exploration of the proposals

February 22, 2017

As readers know, I have been doing a multipart series on the proposed tax reforms for the last three weeks in Thoughts from the Frontline. My intention is to finish this week. In part two I talked about what I like about the Better Way proposal, and in part three I pretty much eviscerated the border adjustment tax (BAT), which I think has the real potential to create a global recession. You’ll need to read the series to see why, but a lot of it has to do with simple game theory, which the...

Fed Up

February 15, 2017

Today’s Outside the Box is a special treat. My good friend and fellow Texan Danielle DiMartino Booth’s new book, Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America, was out officially yesterday, on Valentine’s Day, and already there are dozens of reviews all over the internet.

Ten years ago, Danielle left a trading gig on Wall Street to work directly for Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher. She helped him gain insights into the economy and aided in crafting his...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook—4Q2016

February 8, 2017

Longtime readers of Outside the Box know that I am a fan of Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management. Lacy and his partner, Van Hoisington, produce a quarterly letter that is a must-read for me, as it reliably informs my thinking in a world drowning in conventional economics – economics that seem to continually miss the mark.

It almost goes without saying that Lacy will be speaking at our Strategic Investment Conference again this year, and he’s just one of a long (and...

More on Complexity Economics

February 3, 2017

In last weekend’s Thoughts from the Frontline, I talked about how the economics profession in general and central bankers in particular have consistently failed with their economic projections, and I pointed to the need to deepen our understanding of complex systems behavior. I said that we need to marry complex systems theory and information theory in order to establish a new basis for analyzing the economy and creating economic policy.

I couldn’t have been happier, then, when the new issue...

Is NATO Obsolete?

January 20, 2017

Inauguration is in the air here in Washington. While we all wonder what Donald Trump will say in his first speech as President, I find myself thinking of other inaugural addresses in light of today’s issues.

One that comes to mind is Thomas Jefferson’s 1801 speech. In stating that peaceful relations with other countries were one of our “essential principles,” Jefferson spoke that now-famous line, that the US seeks “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances...

Howard Marks on Expert Opinion

January 11, 2017

In a week when I have once more gone out on the old limb, in last weekend’s Thoughts from the Frontline, to bring you my forecast for the new year, and when I’m also sharing with readers of my Over My Shoulder service the tea-leaf skryings of some of the boldest and brightest among my fellow economic prognosticators, I’m feeling a need to use today’s Outside the Box to redress the balance a bit.

Thus, I have for you today a piece by legendary investor Howard Marks, co-chairman of Oaktree...

Two Views on the New Year from Across the Pond

January 6, 2017

In today’s Outside the Box we’ll continue with our traditional New Year’s forecasting theme, but we’ll look to a couple of European voices – or I guess, especially considering the Brexit vote, I should just call them English voices.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the London Telegraph, see a rather less optimistic 2017 than the one I’m hoping for, but we have to acknowledge that he may be correct. His title pretty much says it all: “Trump, interest rates and Chinese panic: Why euphoria...

Dalio on Trump

December 21, 2016

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Ray Dalio, although I have talked with many people who work with him, and I make it a point to read everything he writes that I can get my hand on. (His outfit, Bridgewater Associates, is notoriously guarded about letting their writings out. I know for a fact that many folks at Bridgewater read my letter – which is admittedly free and certainly doesn’t come with the gravitas of running $150 billion – but in the spirit of the Christmas season I wonder if...

Italy’s Day of Reckoning Is Coming

December 14, 2016

Italy has a new government, and Matteo Renzi is not in charge of it. The former prime minister kept his word and resigned following his constitutional reform plan’s crushing defeat at the polls. Is all now well in that beautiful land?

Not exactly, though we did see a glimmer of hope this week. Unicredit, Italy’s largest bank, announced job cuts and asset sales that may buy it some time. This does not, however, mean the crisis is over. At best, it means the beginning of the crisis is over. We...

Putting the Boot into Italy

December 7, 2016

When Charles Gave, paterfamilias of Gavekal, chooses to express displeasure over an economic trend, an asset class, or what have you, he does not exactly mince words. If you happen to be in the room when he does so, he can sound like the Voice of God Himself, declaring from on high. And with his longish flowing white hair, he actually looks like central casting setting over to play the part.

Today Charles is exercised about Italy. He first reminds us that when Italy adopted the euro in 1999,...

Do Larger Federal Budget Deficits Stimulate Spending? Depends on Where the Funding Comes From

November 30, 2016

In the true spirit of stepping outside the box, today’s OTB is a counterintuitive argument against the concept that fiscal deficits and/or infrastructure spending constitute effective economic stimulus. It comes from Paul Kasriel, who was one of my favorite reads when he was at Northern Trust, and I am glad he continues to write in “retirement.” He always has a way of looking at things from different angles than everybody else does.

Paul is a self-confessed reformed Keynesian. He likens his...

Federal Reserve Meeting Minutes: Stronger than Oak

November 23, 2016

Today, for your pre-Thanksgiving delectation, I have for you an Outside the Box with deep roots in my West Texas homeland. It comes from fellow Texan Danielle DiMartino Booth, who has graced these pages more than once this year. You’ll recall that she was a key advisor on monetary policy to Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher until his retirement last year, whereupon Danielle struck out on her own (and landed here). She has a book coming out early next year, called Fed Up: An Insider’s Take on...

Hoisington Interim Update and Comment

November 16, 2016

Time flies. It seems like only hours ago that I was sending you the Jeffrey Tucker “This Could Be Our 1989” article on Sunday. Now it’s Wednesday and I’m still plugging away on the detailed post-election analysis I promised you. Many of you are eager to read it, too, and said so in comments you sent. I’m finding that the story is full of nuances that I must explain in depth, lest someone misunderstand me.

I want my thoughts to be very clear, so I’m going to take another day to wrap up....

The Day After

November 9, 2016

We had a very late night in the Mauldin household, as I’m sure many of you did. I truly was unsure what to expect from this election, and I was as surprised as anyone when the Trump victory started taking shape. At our election party there were many of my neighbors who were ardent Hillary supporters, and they were shocked, as was much of the national media.

The real losers? Polling companies and those who create models built around them. It turns out that when you really need a poll to work,...

The Origins of American Incivility and Fear

November 2, 2016

My friends and associates know that it is very rare that I am sitting at my desk at 4 AM, as I was this morning. I am not an early morning person. But every now and then I wake up and the mind turns on, and rather than fight it, I go sit at my desk. And almost immediately this morning, I was greeted with this paragraph from my friend Michael Lewitt in his latest letter:

The 2016 presidential election is carving deep scars on the American soul. The country is on the cusp of a constitutional...

Hoisington Management Quarterly Review and Outlook, 3Q 2016

October 26, 2016

By now, you are probably aware that the US budget deficit jumped to $590 billion for fiscal 2016. What you might not be aware of is that US government debt rose by $1.4 trillion last fiscal year. That difference between the deficit and debt increases is an enormous number, and I bet you’re just as curious as I was to know what in the heck we spent that additional $800 billion on.

In this week’s Outside the Box, my friends Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington actually tell us the answer to that...

Restoring America’s Economic Mobility

October 19, 2016

I can remember writing in the ’90s and early 2000s that one of the great things about the United States was our economic mobility. By that term, economists mean the ability of people to shift around on the economic spectrum – to move from being a low-income family to being a high-income family, for example. Karl Marx, in the 1850s, even cited the US as an exception to his struggle-of-the-classes theory, because the economic classes in the US kept changing so much.

The last few years have seen...

Desperate Central Bankers

October 12, 2016

I have been pounding the table over the mistakes made by central banks all around the world for some time now. When I started I was almost alone because markets were still going up and are no there were obvious market overvaluations. My argument back during QE3 was that over time an uber-dovish monetary policy would lead to excesses. We have now come to that point and I am no longer alone in my criticism. There is a growing concern from many corners of the globe that monetary policy, far from...

The Overlords of Finance

October 6, 2016

We keep having to find inventive new ways to describe the ever more extreme antics of our central bankers. In today’s OTB, good friend Danielle DiMartino Booth draws an interesting historical parallel in a valiant attempt to place post-Great Recession central bank activity in a comprehensible context.

She takes us back to the 20th-century era of World Wars and draws upon the thinking of Liaquat Ahamed, whose seminal work The Lords of Finance is said to have been inspired by that unforgettable...

The Islamic Hatred of Modernity

September 28, 2016

I have for you a very interesting and unusual piece for this week’s Outside the Box. It is not that I do not regularly send things by authors who see the world differently from me, but I rarely delve into the political and geopolitical world.

My friend Dr. Woody Brock is one of the most brilliant game theory specialists that I know. He studied with the most accomplished game theoreticians in academia, and he regularly applies game theory to economics and investing.

It is no understatement to...

The BIS Warns on China

September 21, 2016

I’ve been saying for the past couple years that the next recession here in the US will probably be triggered by an external macro event or cascade of events, coming out of Europe or China. Today’s Outside the Box sharpens our focus on China, which had already got quite a lot sharper with Michael Pettis’s piece in Outside the Box on Sept. 2.

Today’s post comes from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the London Telegraph. He is commenting on the recently released quarterly report of the Bank for...

BioTime Makes History with Announcement of First Stem Cell Spinal Cord Therapy Results

September 7, 2016

As my regular readers know, I am heavily focused on the massive monetary policy errors that are being foisted on the world by central bankers. This is not going to end well. My letter this weekend will probably be one of the most controversial that I have ever written, and I will probably lose a few longtime readers from the Federal Reserve. (Yes, some of them actually read me, probably more for the humor than the instruction, and for talking about me around the water cooler). For this week’s...

Does It Matter If China Cleans Up Its Banks?

September 2, 2016

It has been a while since we have taken a close look at China. After the dustup with Chinese “depreciation” about this time last year and all the hysteria, all eyes have been trained on the rest of the world. It has been only a little more than a year since we published the book I co-wrote with Worth Wray on China, which we called “A Great Leap Forward?” The title was meant to be ironic, because the original Great Leap Forward imposed by Mao in the ’60s was one of the most economically...

Renzi’s Great Gamble

August 24, 2016

There is an extremely important election coming up, and I am not talking about the US presidential election. The upcoming referendum in either October or November in Italy may have as much or even more macroeconomic impact on the world as the US election, but hardly anyone outside of Italy is paying much attention to it – yet.

I have been saying for some time in interviews around the country that I think the referendum in Italy has even more potential impact than the Brexit vote did in the...

The Globalization Disconnect

August 17, 2016

There has been a monster debate going on in economic circles as we try to assess the reasons for Brexit/Trump/Sanders and the developed world’s rejection of the directions in which the establishment wants to take us. There are many explanations, which try to spin answers to fit the authors’ own economic or political views; but it all goes back to my thesis that the benefits of globalization, like the future, are unevenly distributed. Those who have been on the short end of the distribution...

“The Bond Rally of a Lifetime”

August 10, 2016

In 1981, as inflation and Treasury yields were screaming to new heights, good friend Gary Shilling had the audacity to announce, “We’re entering the bond rally of a lifetime.” He was right, as that bond rally is already 35 years old and I think it will see a few more birthdays. Gary’s with us today to assert that the rally is still underway – and to back up that assertion with a rather compelling case for Treasuries and for the “long bond” (the 30-year) in particular.

Gary recalls his famous...

Toynbee’s Europe

August 3, 2016

In today’s Outside the Box, Charles Gave offers an incisive and absolutely scathing indictment of the latter-day European project. Harking back to the historian Arnold Toynbee, Charles reminds us that “the role of ‘elites’ in any society is to handle challenges that allow the group to survive and move on to the next phase of their shared journey. If bad solutions are offered up then problems will intensify and pressure will arise for a change in the elite.”

In the postwar era, Charles asserts,...

Crisis Actors and a Reichstag Fire

July 27, 2016

This week your Outside the Box is from my friend Ben Hunt, who writes his letter under the title Epsilon Theory. This edition is a little darker than usual, and certainly more of a think piece. A central argument that Ben makes in Epsilon Theory is that it is Narrative that is the driver of politics, economics, and social interaction generally. The Narrative is what we all (mostly) believe and act upon. Investors generally believe that quantitative easing is going to result in a rising stock...

The Bond Market: Beware of Junkyard Dogs

July 20, 2016

It should come as no surprise that credit spreads are shrinking between what in theory are risk-free investments and other investments. Retirees and other investors are reaching farther and farther for yield, piling into all sorts of increasingly risky investments.

My friend Danielle DiMartino Booth, formerly at the Dallas Fed and now writing on her own at the eponymous website www.dimartinobooth.com, covers a wide range of topics that are affected by central-bank policies. Today she deals...

Hoisington Investment Management – Quarterly Review and Outlook, Second Quarter 2016

July 13, 2016

It has come to be a near truism that high levels of government debt and deficit spending suppress economic growth, but how exactly does that happen? In today’s Outside the Box, Dr. Lacy Hunt and Van Hoisington of Hoisington Investment Management give us a very detailed explanation of the dynamics involved.

On the deficit spending front, the authors state that the best evidence suggests that the US government expenditure multiplier is -0.01, which means that each additional dollar of deficit...

Bill Gross at His Best

July 6, 2016

I normally read Bill Gross’s monthly letter the day of or shortly after when it comes out. For whatever reason, I didn’t get around to his early June letter until a few days ago. It has been a few years since I have sent his letter out as your Outside the Box for the week, but I thought this one was so good that I needed to send it on. As it turns out, I went this morning to get it from his website and found that his July letter is out, and it is just as good. Since he writes relatively short...

Brexit Bombshell: EU Capitulates?

June 28, 2016

This Is a Special Brexit Edition of Outside the Box.

As you may know, at Mauldin Economics we have a partnership with George Friedman of Geopolitical Futures. Today, I have two important Brexit stories George published over the weekend.

These two stories had an interesting origin. Last Saturday morning, I wrapped up Thoughts from the Frontline and then turned back to my packed e-mail inbox. There, I saw George’s latest Reality Check analysis, “The Surprise at Brexit and the Social Crisis...

Update on Globalization

June 22, 2016

Globalization is one of the dominant economic forces in the world today and given the politics of the world it is also one of the most controversial. Globalization has been one of the leading forces of overall global growth and is continuing to grow, albeit at a slower pace, yet the forces which would roll back or hinder globalization are increasing as well.

My friend Ian Bremmer, professor at New York University and founder of the Eurasia Group, is one of the foremost authorities on...

Evans-Pritchard, McWilliams, and Luntz on the Implications of Brexit

June 15, 2016

In the wake of Orlando, I feel somewhat ambivalent about dragging us back to the world of economics. As I write this note, it is still unclear what the reaction of the country will be to the largest shooting massacre ever on US soil. Everywhere I turn, it seems that people are trying to spin this in one direction or another, always filtered through their own worldviews.

My friend David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors frequently offers common-sense commentary on a wide variety of topics, and he...

Large Bank Risk: Liquidity Not Capital Is the Issue

June 8, 2016

Today’s Outside the Box is a little bit different – which, considering that most Outside the Box pieces can be classified as a little bit different, is not that unusual; but this one needs to come with a warning label that you may find it a tad wonkish. It’s from my friend Chris Whalen of the Kroll Bond Rating Agency. When I want to understand something about banks, Chris is one of my go-to guys.

In Chris’s latest memo he talks about the push to increase the capital levels of the eight largest...

Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits

June 1, 2016

I mentioned a few weeks ago in Thoughts from the Frontline the statistic I read that 47% of Americans have less than $400 in savings to meet emergencies. Many of those people are elderly. When I was at Rob Arnott’s Research Affiliates conference a few weeks ago, we heard two presentations on the state of the Social Security system, and looked at two approaches to fixing the system. One presentation was by my friend and Boston University professor Dr. Larry Kotlikoff, who has contributed today’s...

At Last, Someone Apologizes for Deflation

May 18, 2016

Much of the world is in the grip of deflation and negative interest rates, with all kinds of negative consequences. Yet no one takes responsibility. Who do we blame? How do we get them to change their ways?

I’m happy to report that someone is finally stepping up. The New York Times reported this morning that Akagi Nyugyo, a Japanese ice cream company, is airing a televised apology for raising its prices. Grim-faced executives and workers face the camera as a subtly humorous folk song plays and...

Central Banks and the Rise of Extremism

May 11, 2016

Do you feel as if you’re the rope in a tug of war? That’s the closest analogy I can come up with to describe what’s going on inside my own head – and in the world. And at the last few conferences where I’ve spoken, talking with the participants afterwards, I’ve found that my feeling is widely shared. Our sense of direction, the sense of knowing where we’re going, is gone. To analogize some more, I told a friend last night that I feel as if we have slipped our anchor and are adrift on the ocean...

Where’s the Beef? “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”

May 4, 2016

I have long been a critic of government inflation statistics. Not so much with regard to the methodology they use, but because the measure of “average” inflation across the broad economy doesn’t really describe the inflation that the majority of Americans experience. I’ve written about that at length in several letters.

Now my good friend Rob Arnott, along with his associate Lillian Wu, presents us with a research paper that lays out what inflation actually looks like for most Americans – and...

Flawed Assumptions and Grand Experiments

April 20, 2016

Over the last few years, I have from time to time had the real pleasure of being in the presence of Lakshman Achuthan, Chief Operations Officer for the Economic Cycle Research Institute, a rather serious team of economists who spend their time researching economic cycles, especially those around recessions. They are known for having forward-looking models rather than always looking in the rearview mirror.

Every time I get around Lakshman I walk away impressed. And I always make a mental note...

Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook – 1Q2016

April 13, 2016

You often hear me harping on the dangers of too much debt, and I keep my eyes peeled for significant work that backs up my concerns. In today’s Outside the Box good friend Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management gives us more ammunition to take on those who just don’t seem to get that the endless piling up of debt is not a sustainable way to run an economy.

The most striking feature of the US economy’s performance in 2015, according to Lacy, was a massive advance in nonfinancial debt...

Thrivers and Strugglers: A Growing Economic Divide

April 6, 2016

I am on yet another plane and reading an analysis of the growing wealth and income divide. The data in this week’s Outside the Box is fascinating – but sobering. I can kind of go along with some of the author’s ideas, but the Progressive cheerleader thing is a little disconcerting. That being said, the data squares with other work I have seen. The wealth and income divide is not 1%-99% but more like 25-75. There is a link to a book at the end for those who want a really deep dive.

This essay...

Can “Smart Beta” Get You in Trouble?

March 30, 2016

I have been doing a fairly deep study of portfolio construction for the past two years, trying to figure out how to solve some of the most perplexing problems of the day: dealing with risk, volatility, performance chasing, and the ever-elusive challenge of actually figuring out where to find performance. One of the hottest topics in the literature and at conferences I attend is the concept of “smart beta.”

Smart beta is a rather elusive term in modern finance. It lacks a strict definition and...

Peter’s Perspective on Chinese Real Estate

March 23, 2016

My doctor and good friend Michael Roizen (head of the wellness center and a director at the Cleveland Clinic) has some 23 million books in print in scores of different languages around the world. He called me on Monday remarkably enthusiastic (even for him) about his recent trip to China.

While there, he was the weekend guest of an extraordinarily rich businessperson who read one of Michael’s books and credits the lifestyle and diet that Mike advocates with turning his life around, if not...

Whatever Happened to the Invisible Hand of Capitalism?

March 18, 2016

It has been an interesting week for Fed observers and markets. There is an odd disconnect between the data that we are told the Fed depends on and the press release and follow-on press conference that the FOMC conducts after its meetings. But clearly the market likes it that way. This week’s Outside the Box deals with the philosophical issue of the Federal Reserve setting the price of money. My friend and well-known value investor Vitaliy Katsenelson goes back to his youth in Russia, where some...