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June 19, 2022 | Gradually Worse

This time last year, the great debate was whether inflation would be “transitory.” That question is now settled (Narrator: “It wasn’t transitory at all.”), we have moved on to debating what the Federal Reserve will do about it… and can do about it. The experts at the Strategic Investment Conference fell into two camps: The […]

June 12, 2022 | A Trillion Here, a Trillion There…

Complaining about federal debt is a time-honored American tradition. Remember Ross Perot and his hockey-stick charts? Then there was Harry Figgie’s 1992 best-selling book, Bankruptcy 1995. It was quite a sensation at the time. Not only did the US government not go bankrupt in 1995, but a few years later it achieved the unimaginable feat […]

June 5, 2022 | No Soft Landings

“There’s no soft landing when you’re this far out of equilibrium.” —Tom Hoenig My last four letters featured highlights from the Strategic Investment Conference. I told you they would build toward a conclusion that might not be obvious. Today we’ll lift that final curtain. Some of it is good news. Innovation will continue, technology will […]

May 29, 2022 | Rock and a Hard Place

Two weeks after SIC ended, I’m beginning to assimilate everything. Different pieces are connecting in my head. I’d like to tell you I have a vision for uninterrupted peace and prosperity. Sadly, that’s not the case. Good things are coming, but not just yet. For now, we are stuck in an awkward interregnum. It looks […]

May 22, 2022 | Hardening of the Economies

Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, occurs when substances like cholesterol accumulate and impede your blood flow. This keeps your body from delivering nutrients where needed. Left untreated, it usually doesn’t end well. Something similar is happening to the global economy. Like atherosclerosis, it’s been building toward a crisis for years. Central bank policy errors, […]

May 15, 2022 | A Little Harder

The Strategic Investment Conference wrapped up this week with another wave of strong, fascinating speakers and panels. I gave you some highlights in last week’s Soft Now, Hard Later letter. Today I have more to share and, as you’ll see, the plot thickened considerably. After 16 years I’ve learned how this goes. You begin with […]

May 8, 2022 | Soft Now, Hard Later

The Strategic Investment Conference is in full swing. This is our 18th consecutive year and the third in an all-online virtual format. In 2020 we had to make that transition quickly, yet somehow the team pulled it off. Now we are getting the hang of it—though I do firmly intend to have an in-person event […]

May 1, 2022 | The Fed Is NGMI

We found out this week that the first quarter was recessionary: GDP down 1.4% when the expectation was that the quarter would be up 1%. Rather large miss! Even so, the quarter-over-quarter comparisons were difficult so I believe the Fed will look past it and a 50-basis-point hike in May is still on. Even if […]

April 24, 2022 | Into the Fire

If you haven’t noticed—perhaps because you live on Mars—inflation is here. Not just in the US but almost everywhere. Prices for everyday goods and services, including necessities like food, are climbing rapidly. The US Consumer Price Index rose 8.5% in the 12 months through March… and we know it understates categories like housing. These year-over-year […]

April 17, 2022 | More on the Yield Curve and Helping Ukraine

It’s Easter weekend, so we are going to revisit a 2018 letter about the yield curve. The yield curve is much misunderstood and misused by many analysts. This letter will give you the tools to understand the correct importance and relevance of the yield curve. And then, a few comments about Ukraine. First, a reminder […]

April 10, 2022 | Other Possibilities

An old Danish proverb, later attributed to everyone from Mark Twain to Nostradamus to Yogi Berra, says, “Predictions are difficult, especially about the future.” I would refine it a little: Predictions are actually pretty easy. Accurate predictions are very difficult. We can never know the future because it’s not here yet. We can only make educated forecasts […]

March 20, 2022 | Brace for (Recession) Impact

The Strange Recession we are now entering is strange for another reason beside those I described last week. The last “normal” recession ended in 2009, almost 13 years ago. As with most unpleasant experiences, we don’t put a lot of energy into remembering what it was like. The problem is we need to remember it […]

February 27, 2022 | The Three-Act Recovery, Plus Your Questions

This week’s news is seemingly all about Ukraine and Russia. It is a terrible situation. But as an economic matter, we still have serious economic challenges no matter how it develops. I’ll have some thoughts on the Ukraine effects at the end of this letter. First I want to tell you about an economic analysis […]

February 20, 2022 | Inflation Thoughts

But mouse-friend, you are not alone In proving foresight may be vain: The best-laid schemes of Mice and Men Go oft awry, And leave us only grief and pain, For promised joy! —Robert Burns, “To a Mouse,” English translation How much inflation is okay? People have different answers. I think it should be very low, […]

February 13, 2022 | Financialized Everything

Interest rates—the “price of money”—have been unusually low for most of this century, particularly since the 2008 crisis but going back to Greenspan’s era. The wisest people I know differ on exactly why. Was it purely a policy choice, or the result of larger, less-controllable economic forces? I believe the answer is some of both. […]

February 6, 2022 | Time to Rethink the Fed

“In many important ways, the financial crash of 2008 had never ended. It was a long crash that crippled the economy for years. The problems that caused it went almost entirely unsolved. And this financial crash was compounded by a long crash in the strength of America’s democratic institutions. When America relied on the Federal […]

January 30, 2022 | So Goes the Year?

You’ve heard the old stock market adage, “As goes January, so goes the year.” If so, 2022 will be a wild ride. Of course, in this context “wild” doesn’t necessarily mean a loss. But it could, and given the well-documented human tendency to buy high and sell low, actual investors could easily lag behind even […]

January 23, 2022 | Beijing’s Dilemmas

Ranked by population, the United States is the world’s third largest country, behind China and India. But the gap is greater than the ranking implies. According to Worldometer, as of 2020 China had 1.44 billion people, India 1.38 billion, and the US 331 million. In other words, by population China is more than four times […]

January 16, 2022 | Year of the Bookends

If you are a booklover like me, you probably have many shelves. On some of those shelves you probably have bookends holding the books in place. They come in opposing pairs—similar but reversed. What if the COVID-era economy has bookends? I think that may be what’s happening. If you think of 2020 as the left […]

January 9, 2022 | A Path-Dependent Year—WWJD

Twenty-two years of tradition dictate I begin the new year by forecasting what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the future is never really knowable. “Forecast” is a polite synonym for “guess.” The better ones are informed guesses, but still inherently uncertain. The coming year is particularly uncertain. The economy could be wildly different based on how certain […]

December 25, 2021 | Coming to America

This week is a little bit different than your usual Thoughts from the Frontline. It is Christmas Day as this is sent out, so not the time to ramble on about inflation and the markets. Instead I’ll share a story from my good friend Vitaliy Katsenelson. He immigrated to the US with his family from […]

December 19, 2021 | Inflation by the Numbers

Milton Friedman famously said inflation is “always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” He was right but that short statement doesn’t fully explain how inflation works. It has other causes, too. The period in which he did his most famous research showed inflation was clearly a monetary phenomenon, but I’m not sure he would make the […]

December 12, 2021 | What Really Caused Inflation

You won’t be surprised to know I disagree with recent Federal Reserve policy choices. The Fed’s future choices are more important, though. Debating what they should do is one thing. Anticipating what they will do is critical. Today we’ll “war game” what the Fed is facing as it wrestles with inflation, growth, employment, and political […]

December 5, 2021 | Capital Excess

Why do we invest? Everyone has their reasons, but funding retirement may be the most common one. Whenever the time comes, we want to relax in comfort and security. Yet this whole “retirement” idea is really quite new. For most of human history, almost everyone worked as long as they physically could, then expired soon […]

November 28, 2021 | Worth a Thousand Words

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope everyone had a good holiday. I’m writing this issue early in the week while enroute to join family in Dallas. Today will be different and I hope you like it.   The charts and comments below are drawn from the “Clips That Matter” feature of our Over My Shoulder service. Because […]

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