Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.Stock Market Crash and Recession Indicator Warning: Extreme Danger Ahead - Harry_Dent
2. Is This How World War III Begins, In Almost Complete Silence? - Jeff_Berwick
3.Trump Wins 2nd Presidential Debate, Betfair Betting Markets Odds Bounce - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Why Krugman, Roubini, Rogoff And Buffett Dislike Gold - GoldCore
5.End of SPX Stock Market Correction Nears - Tony_Caldaro
6.Get Ready for the Future - Exponential Machine Intelligence Mega-trend towards Singularity - Nadeem_Walayat
7.US Housing Market Bubble II – It’s Happening Again! - Andy_Sutton
8.FTSE BrExit Stock Market Panic Crash Resolves towards New All Time Highs - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Can Trump Still Win Despite Opinion Polls, Bookmakers and Pundits all Saying Hillary has Won? - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Gold’s, Miners’ Stops Run - Zeal_LLC
Last 7 days
Inflation About To Explode Higher - 22nd Oct 16
Still waiting for SPX uptrend to kick off - 22nd Oct 16
Will a Rising US Dollar Crush Gold’s Fledgling Bull? - 22nd Oct 16
Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly Back to Olduvai Gorge - 22nd Oct 16
GLD Bleeds Out; Weekly Gold Update - 22nd Oct 16
Stock Market Investment Success Through the “Investment Rule of 72” - 21st Oct 16
The Final Bottom in Gold - WHEN - 21st Oct 16
Gold Green Lights Upleg - 21st Oct 16
Demand for US Mints Silver Eagles has ‘Returned with a Vengeance’ - 21st Oct 16
Central Bankers Can't Stop The Death Blow Of The Post US Election Recession - 21st Oct 16
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Golden Opportunity for Frontier Asia - 21st Oct 16
Have You Taken These 4 Simple Steps to Improve Your Trading? - 21st Oct 16
The Stock Market is an Accident Waiting to Happen - 20th Oct 16
It's Rally Time for Gold and Silver Equities - 20th Oct 16
Cashless Society – Risks Posed By The War On Cash - 20th Oct 16
China's insane Housing Market Will Tumble and Crash in 2017 - 20th Oct 16
Donald Trump Bounces Going into 3rd and Final US Presidential Election Debate - 20th Oct 16
Attention Please: Phase Two of the Gold and Silver Train Now leaving the Station. All Aboard? - 19th Oct 16
How to Successfully Trade a Stock Market Crash - Black Monday October 19th 1987 - 19th Oct 16
Tesla, Apple and Uber Push Lithium Prices Even Higher - 18th Oct 16
Silver, Debt, and Deficits – From an Election Year Perspective - 18th Oct 16
UK Property Market: Slow Growth Does Not Equate To Decline - 18th Oct 16
Trump Election Victory is in Your Power - 18th Oct 16
Stock Market More to Come! - 18th Oct 16
This Past Week in Gold and Silver - 17th Oct 16
A Falling Stock Market Cannot Be Allowed - Financial Repression Is Now “In-Play”! - 17th Oct 16
Commodities, Forex and Stock Market Trend Forecasts - 17th Oct 16
Stock Market Crash..or No Crash? - 17th Oct 16
A perspective on risk rally – Risks abound but Stock Market is Confident - 17th Oct 16
Bank of England Blames Brexit for Sterling Drop Inflation, Masks QE Money Printing Cause - 17th Oct 16
From Piety to Pride to Pity, America's Racial Divide - 17th Oct 16
Is Obama Juicing US Government Spending To Get Hillary Clinton Elected? - 16th Oct 16
Seek Your Independence: Anything Else Will Destroy You - 16th Oct 16
SNL - US Presidential Debates, 1st, 2nd, VP - Like You've Never Seen them Before! - 16th Oct 16
End of Economic Growth Sparks Wide Discontent - 16th Oct 16
Donald Trump on Life Support, May Abandon Election Campaign and War on Republican Party - 15th Oct 16
The Gold Manipulators Not Only Will Be Punished, They Have Been Punished - 15th Oct 16
Black Votes Matter - Is the US on the Verge of Mass Race Riots? - 15th Oct 16
Gold Stocks Screaming Buy - 14th Oct 16
Brace Yourself for the Quadrillion-Dollar Reckoning - 14th Oct 16
The Next Recession Will Blow Out the Budget - 14th Oct 16
John Mauldin: My Infrastructure Plan to Save the US Economy - 14th Oct 16
World War III On The Brink: War Will Continue Until It Triggers Economic Collapse - 14th Oct 16
US T-Bill Rejection At Ports In Progress - 14th Oct 16
These 2 Debt Instruments Pose Peril to Millions of Investors - 14th Oct 16
China’s Rocketing Housing Market Real Estate Bubble - 14th Oct 16
DIY Winter Home Maintenance Money Saving 22 Point Checklist to Get Ready for Winter/Fall - 14th Oct 16
US Stock Market, Big Picture View - 13th Oct 16
Stock Buybacks Main Force Driving Bull Market; Rewards Investors and Starves Innovation - 13th Oct 16
SPX Gapping Down... - 13th Oct 16
Syria - Obama Stepped Back From Brink, Will Hillary? - 13th Oct 16
The Structure and Future of Gold in the Investment and Monetary World - 13th Oct 16
Can Trump Still Win Despite Opinion Polls, Bookmakers and Pundits all Saying Hillary has Won? - 12th Oct 16
Gold and Crude Oil - General Stock Market Links - 12th Oct 16
Samsung's Galaxy Battery Just The Tip Of The Iceberg - 12th Oct 16
Hillary: Deceit, Debt, Delusions (Part Two) - 12th Oct 16
Gold and Silver Metals Show Strength Relative to the USD Index - 12th Oct 16
Announcing Trader Education Week -- a Free Event to Help You Learn to Spot Trading Opportunities - 12th Oct 16
Confirmed Stock Market Sell Signals - 11th Oct 16
Hillary Deceit, Debt, Delusions - 11th Oct 16
Trump Support Crashes to New Low of 6.4 on Betfair Odds Betting Market - 11th Oct 16
The World Is Turning Dangerously Insular - 11th Oct 16
An American Tragedy: Trump Won Big - 11th Oct 16

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

LEARN to Trade

What Does the Greek Debt Crisis Mean For Your?

Economics / Global Debt Crisis Mar 27, 2010 - 06:36 AM GMT

By: John_Mauldin


Diamond Rated - Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleWhat Does Greece Mean to Me, Dad?
Dear Kids,
Ubiquity, Complexity Theory, and Sandpiles
Fingers of Instability

"To trace something unknown back to something known is alleviating, soothing, gratifying and gives moreover a feeling of power. Danger, disquiet, anxiety attend the unknown - the first instinct is to eliminate these distressing states. First principle: any explanation is better than none... The cause-creating drive is thus conditioned and excited by the feeling of fear..." Friedrich Nietzsche

"Any explanation is better than none." And the simpler, it seems in the investment game, the better. "The markets went up because oil went down," we are told, except when it went up there was another reason for the movement of the markets. We all intuitively know that things are far more complicated than that. But as Nietzsche noted, dealing with the unknown can be disturbing, so we look for the simple explanation.

"Ah," we tell ourselves, "I know why that happened." With an explanation firmly in hand, we now feel we know something. And the behavioral psychologists note that this state actually releases chemicals in our brains that make us feel good. We become literally addicted to the simple explanation. The fact that what we "know" (the explanation for the unknowable) is irrelevant or even wrong is not important to the chemical release. And thus we look for reasons.

How does an event like a problem in Greece (or elsewhere) affect you, gentle reader? And I mean, affect you down where the rubber hits your road. Not some formula or theory about the velocity of money or the effect of taxes on GDP. That is the question I was posed this week. "I want to understand why you think this is so important," said a friend of Tiffani. So that is what I will attempt to answer in this week's missive, as I write a letter to my kids trying to explain the nearly inexplicable.

But first, let me note to Conversations subscribers that we have posted a Conversation I recently did with Professors Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart, authors of This Time It's Different, which has my vote for most important book of the last few years.

Last week we also posted a Conversation with two noted hedge-fund managers, Kyle Bass of Hayman Advisors (and his staff) here in Dallas and Hugh Hendry of the Eclectica Fund in London. Our discussion centered on what we all think has the potential to be the next Greece, but on a far more serious level.

That got a lot of positive response. Herb wrote, "Wow. What a great discussion. What smart guests, how little BS. Congratulations. It's the best of your Conversations that I've listened to."

And ACK wrote: "Wow!! Just the most important discussion I have been treated to as an investor and fund manager this year or last. Your product is dreadfully underpriced, as it delivers more value and education than almost any other subscription that I have... Thanks so much... This particular conversation was just mind-blowing!"

Actually, we get that last comment almost every issue, as we somehow seem to connect the dots for different listeners. When we started, I promised to do 6-8 a year, and we have already posted 5 timely Conversations in the first 3 months of this year, including my special Biotech Series as well as the Geopolitical Series with George Friedman.

For new readers, Conversations with John Mauldin is my one subscription service. While this letter will always be free, we have created a way for you to "listen in" on my conversations (or read the transcripts) with some of my friends, many of whom you will recognize and some whom you will want to know after you hear our conversations. Basically, I call one or two friends each month and, just as we do at dinner or at meetings, we talk about the issues of the day, back and forth, with give and take and friendly debate. I think you will find it enlightening and thought-provoking and a real contribution to your education as an investor.

And as you can see, I can get some rather interesting people to come to the table. Current subscribers can renew for a deeply discounted $129, and we will extend that price to new subscribers as well. To learn more, go to Click on the Subscribe button, and join me and my friends for some very interesting Conversations. (I know the price says $199 on the site, but for now you will only be charged for $129 – I promise.)

And we are starting a renewal cycle with the subscriptions and have found a small bug in the software we purchased to handle them. Renewals are therefore not instantaneous. It may take a day, and for that we apologize. We are fixing it.

Oh, and by the way, since the Conversation on Japan was so well-received, the next one will be on China. Two brilliant managers (maybe three) with VERY divergent views. I may just toss in a few grenade-type questions and stand back and watch the show. And now on to this week's letter.

What Does Greece Mean to Me, Dad?
Tiffani had been talking with her friends. A lot of them read this letter, and they were asking, "Ok, I get that Greece is a problem. But what does that mean for me here?"

The same day, a friend told me about a conversation she had with her 17-year-old Cal Tech daughter and her daughter's boyfriend, who is also headed to Cal Tech. These are really smart kids, and they were asking her about some of my recent letters. "We understand what's he saying, but we just don't see what it means." (For what it's worth, the boyfriend wants to grow up to be Mohammed El-Erian of PIMCO. Go figure; I just wanted to be Mickey Mantle.)

Twice in one day is a sign, I am sure, so I will try and see if I can explain. And since all my kids must be wondering the same thing, this is kind of letter from Dad to see if I can help them understand why things are not going as well as they would like.

(A little background. I have seven kids, five of whom are adopted. A fairly colorful family, so to speak. Pictures at the end of the letter. Ages almost 16 through 33. Daughter Tiffani runs my business and, except for the youngest boy, they are all out on their own. Four are married or attached. It is not easy to watch them struggle to make ends meet, but Dad is proud. But listening to their stories, and the stories of their friends, help keep me in the real world.)

Dear Kids,
I know what a struggle it has been for most of you, and now three of you have a kid of your own. Expensive little hobbies, aren't they? I know that you read my letter (well, except for Trey) and wonder what it means to you trying to pay your bills. Let me see if I can make a connection from the world of economics to the world of paying your bills. Sadly, what I am going to say is not going to make you feel any better, but reality is what it is. We'll get through it together.

While life looks pretty good for Dad now, when I graduated from seminary in December of 1974 unemployment was at 8%, on its way to 9% a few months later. We lived in a small mobile home, which seemed wonderful at the time. I was proud of it. We scrimped and got by. My first job was a dead end, so I left after a few months. I guess I was lucky that no one would hire me, because I had to figure out how to make it on my own. All I really knew was the printing business I had grown up in, so I started brokering printing. Pretty soon I was doing just direct mail, and then designing direct mail. But there was never enough money. We were still in that mobile home six years later.

And prices were going up like crazy. We had inflation. I remember going to a bank in the late '70s and borrowing money for my business at 18%, so I could buy paper for a job I had sold. Forget about borrowing for a new home or car. All I knew was that I was struggling to make ends meet (with a new kid!). There were a lot of nights where I would wake up at two in the morning with panic attacks about whether I could make payroll or pay bills until someone paid me. I didn't understand that what the Fed and the government were doing was causing high inflation and unemployment.

I had a bank line I used to buy paper with. One day the bank abruptly cancelled that line and demanded their money, which I didn't have – all I had was a warehouse full of paper and a contract that said I had a year to pay for it. The bank didn't care. I told them they would just have to wait. I swear, they actually called my mother and told her they would ruin me if she didn't pay that $10,000 line. She was scared for me (after all, you had to be able to trust your banker) and paid it without asking me. Turned out the bank finally went bankrupt later in the year. They were just desperate and trying anything they could do to get money, so they wouldn't lose everything. They did anyway.

In short, times were not all that good, but we got through it. And now, 35 years later, it seems like déjà vu all over again. Every time we talk it seems like someone we know has lost a job.

And so how do the problems in a small country like Greece make a difference to you? There is a connection, but it's different than the old "hip bone is connected to the thigh bone to the knee bone" thing. It is a lot more complicated. Let's go back to a letter I wrote four years ago, talking about fingers of instability. One of the best analogies your Dad has ever written, according to many of his 1 million friends. So read with me a few pages, and then we'll get back to Greece.

Ubiquity, Complexity Theory, and Sandpiles
We are going to start our explorations with excerpts from a very important book by Mark Buchanan called Ubiquity, Why Catastrophes Happen. I HIGHLY recommend it to those of you who, like me, are trying to understand the complexity of the markets. Not directly about investing, although he touches on it, it is about chaos theory, complexity theory, and critical states. It is written in a manner any layman can understand. There are no equations, just easy-to-grasp, well-written stories and analogies.

We all had the fun as kids of going to the beach and playing in the sand. Remember taking your plastic buckets and making sandpiles? Slowly pouring the sand into ever-bigger piles, until one side of the pile started an avalanche?

Imagine, Buchanan says, dropping just one grain of sand after another onto a table. A pile soon develops. Eventually, just one grain starts an avalanche. Most of the time it is a small one, but sometimes it gains momentum and it seems like one whole side of the pile slides down to the bottom.

Well, in 1987 three physicists, named Per Bak, Chao Tang, and Kurt Weisenfeld, began to play the sandpile game in their lab at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Now, actually piling up one grain of sand at a time is a slow process, so they wrote a computer program to do it. Not as much fun, but a whole lot faster. Not that they really cared about sandpiles. They were more interested in what are called nonequilibrium systems.

They learned some interesting things. What is the typical size of an avalanche? After a huge number of tests with millions of grains of sand, they found out that there is no typical number. "Some involved a single grain; others, ten, a hundred or a thousand. Still others were pile-wide cataclysms involving millions that brought nearly the whole mountain down. At any time, literally anything, it seemed, might be just about to occur."

It was indeed completely chaotic in its unpredictability. Now, let's read these next paragraphs slowly. They are important, as they create a mental image that helps me understand the organization of the financial markets and the world economy.

"To find out why [such unpredictability] should show up in their sandpile game, Bak and colleagues next played a trick with their computer. Imagine peering down on the pile from above, and coloring it in according to its steepness. Where it is relatively flat and stable, color it green; where steep and, in avalanche terms, 'ready to go,' color it red.

"What do you see? They found that at the outset the pile looked mostly green, but that, as the pile grew, the green became infiltrated with ever more red. With more grains, the scattering of red danger spots grew until a dense skeleton of instability ran through the pile. Here then was a clue to its peculiar behavior: a grain falling on a red spot can, by domino-like action, cause sliding at other nearby red spots. If the red network was sparse, and all trouble spots were well isolated one from the other, then a single grain could have only limited repercussions.

"But when the red spots come to riddle the pile, the consequences of the next grain become fiendishly unpredictable. It might trigger only a few tumblings, or it might instead set off a cataclysmic chain reaction involving millions. The sandpile seemed to have configured itself into a hypersensitive and peculiarly unstable condition in which the next falling grain could trigger a response of any size whatsoever."

Something only a math nerd could love? Scientists refer to this as a critical state. The term critical state can mean the point at which water would go to ice or steam, or the moment that critical mass induces a nuclear reaction, etc. It is the point at which something triggers a change in the basic nature or character of the object or group. Thus, (and very casually for all you physicists) we refer to something being in a critical state (or use the term critical mass) when there is the opportunity for significant change.

"But to physicists, [the critical state] has always been seen as a kind of theoretical freak and sideshow, a devilishly unstable and unusual condition that arises only under the most exceptional circumstances [in highly controlled experiments]... In the sandpile game, however, a critical state seemed to arise naturally through the mindless sprinkling of grains."

Then they asked themselves, could this phenomenon show up elsewhere? In the earth's crust, triggering earthquakes; in wholesale changes in an ecosystem or a stock market crash? "Could the special organization of the critical state explain why the world at large seems so susceptible to unpredictable upheavals?" Could it help us understand not just earthquakes, but why cartoons in a third-rate paper in Denmark could cause worldwide riots?

Buchanan concludes in his opening chapter, "There are many subtleties and twists in the story ... but the basic message, roughly speaking, is simple: The peculiar and exceptionally unstable organization of the critical state does indeed seem to be ubiquitous in our world. Researchers in the past few years have found its mathematical fingerprints in the workings of all the upheavals I've mentioned so far [earthquakes, eco-disasters, market crashes], as well as in the spreading of epidemics, the flaring of traffic jams, the patterns by which instructions trickle down from managers to workers in the office, and in many other things.

"At the heart of our story, then, lies the discovery that networks of things of all kinds – atoms, molecules, species, people, and even ideas – have a marked tendency to organize themselves along similar lines. On the basis of this insight, scientists are finally beginning to fathom what lies behind tumultuous events of all sorts, and to see patterns at work where they have never seen them before."

Now, let's think about this for a moment. Going back to the sandpile game, you find that as you double the number of grains of sand involved in an avalanche, the likelihood of an avalanche is 2.14 times as unlikely. We find something similar in earthquakes. In terms of energy, the data indicate that earthquakes simply become four times less likely each time you double the energy they release. Mathematicians refer to this as a "power law," or a special mathematical pattern that stands out in contrast to the overall complexity of the earthquake process.

Fingers of Instability
So what happens in our game? "... after the pile evolves into a critical state, many grains rest just on the verge of tumbling, and these grains link up into ‘fingers of instability' of all possible lengths. While many are short, others slice through the pile from one end to the other. So the chain reaction triggered by a single grain might lead to an avalanche of any size whatsoever, depending on whether that grain fell on a short, intermediate or long finger of instability."

Now, we come to a critical point in our discussion of the critical state. Again, read this with the markets in mind:

"In this simplified setting of the sandpile, the power law also points to something else: the surprising conclusion that even the greatest of events have no special or exceptional causes. After all, every avalanche large or small starts out the same way, when a single grain falls and makes the pile just slightly too steep at one point. What makes one avalanche much larger than another has nothing to do with its original cause, and nothing to do with some special situation in the pile just before it starts. Rather, it has to do with the perpetually unstable organization of the critical state, which makes it always possible for the next grain to trigger an avalanche of any size."

Now let's couple this idea with a few other concepts. First, one of the world's greatest economists (who sadly was never honored with a Nobel), Hyman Minsky, points out that stability leads to instability. The longer a given condition or trend persists (and the more comfortable we get with it), the more dramatic the correction will be when the trend fails. The problem with long-term macroeconomic stability is that it tends to produce highly unstable financial arrangements. If we believe that tomorrow and next year will be the same as last week and last year, we are more willing to add debt or postpone savings for current consumption. Thus, says Minsky, the longer the period of stability, the higher the potential risk for even greater instability when market participants must change their behavior.

Relating this to our sandpile, the longer that a critical state builds up in an economy or, in other words, the more fingers of instability that are allowed to develop connections to other fingers of instability, the greater the potential for a serious "avalanche."

And that's exactly what happened in the recent credit crisis. Consumers all through the world's largest economies borrowed money for all sorts of things, because times were good. Home prices would always go up and the stock market was back to its old trick of making 15% a year. And borrowing money was relatively cheap. You could get 2% short-term loans on homes, which seemingly rose in value 15% a year, so why not buy now and sell a few years down the road?

Greed took over. Those risky loans were sold to investors by the tens and hundreds of billions all over the world. And as with all debt sandpiles, the fault lines started to show up. Maybe it was that one loan in Las Vegas that was the critical piece of sand; we don't know, but the avalanche was triggered.

You probably don't remember this, but Dad was writing about the problems with subprime debt way back in 2005 and 2006. But as the problem actually emerged, respected people like Ben Bernanke (the chairman of the Fed) said that the problem was not all that big, and that the fallout would be "contained." (I bet he wishes he could have that statement back!)

But it wasn't contained. It caused banks to realize that what they thought was AAA credit was actually a total loss. And as banks looked at what was on their books, they wondered about their fellow banks. How bad were they? Who knew? Since no one did, they stopped lending to each other. Credit simply froze. They stopped taking each other's letters of credit, and that hurt world trade. Because banks were losing money, they stopped lending to smaller businesses. Commercial paper dried up. All those "safe" off-balance-sheet funds that banks created were now folding. Everyone sold what they could, not what they wanted to, to cover their debts. It was a true panic. Businesses started laying off people, who in turn stopped spending as much.

As you saw from my earlier story about my bank experience, banks may do what unreasonable things when they get into trouble. (Speaking of which, my smallish Texas bank, where I have been for almost 20 years, just cancelled my very modest, unused credit line last month, and told me that letters of credit will not be rewritten without 100% cash against them. Not to worry, Dad is actually in the best shape of his life, business-wise, knock on wood. I hadn't talked personally to a banker in years. When I asked the young clerk on the phone, "What's going on?" he said it was just an order from his director. I switched banks last week, as I can smell a bank in trouble. And I again have a credit line – which I hope not to use.)

But the fact is, we need banks. They are like the arteries in our bodies; they keep the blood (money) flowing. And when our arteries get hard, we can be in danger of heart attacks. And it's going to get worse, as banks are going to lose more money on their commercial real estate loans. Commercial real estate is down some 40% around the country.

There are a lot of books that try to pinpoint the cause of our current crisis. And some make for fun reading, like a good mystery novel. You can blame it on the Fed or the bankers or hedge funds or the government or ratings agencies or any number of culprits.

Let me be a little controversial here. The blame game that is now going on is in many ways way too simplistic. The world system survived all sorts of crises over the recent decades and bounced back. Why is now so different?

Because we are coming to the end of a 60-year debt supercycle. We borrowed (and not just in the US) like there was no tomorrow. And because we were so convinced that all this debt was safe, we leveraged up, borrowing at first 3 and then 5 and then 10 and then as much as 30 times the actual money we had. And we convinced the regulators that it was a good thing. The longer things remained stable, the more convinced we became they would remain that way. The following chart shows how our sandpile ended up. It's not pretty.

I know Dad always say it is never "different," but in a sense this time is really different from all the other crises we have gone through since the Great Depression that your Less-Than-Sainted Granddad used to talk about. What the very important book by professors Reinhart and Rogoff shows is that every debt crisis always ends this way, with the debt having to be paid down or written off or defaulted upon. That part is never different. One way or another, we reduce the debt. And that is a painful process. It means that the economy grows much slower, if at all, during the process.

And while the government is trying to make up the difference for consumers who are trying to (or being forced to) reduce their debt, even governments have limits, as the Greeks are finding out.

If it were not for the fact that we are coming to the closing innings of the debt supercycle, we would already be in a robust recovery. But we are not. And sadly, we have a long way to go with this deleveraging process. It will take years.

You can't borrow your way out of a debt crisis, whether you are a family or a nation. And as too many families are finding out today, if you lose your job you can lose your home. What were once very creditworthy people are now filing for bankruptcy and walking away from homes, as all those subprime loans going bad put homes back onto the market, which caused prices to fall, which caused an entire home-construction industry to collapse, which hurt all sorts of ancillary businesses, which caused more people to lose their jobs and give up their homes, and on and on.

It's all connected. We built a very unstable sandpile and it came crashing down and now we have to dig out from the problem. And the problem was too much debt. It will take years, as banks write off home loans and commercial real estate and more, and we get down to a more reasonable level of debt as a country and as a world.

And here's where I have to deliver the bad news. It seems we did not learn the lessons of this crisis very well. First, we have not fixed the problems that made the crisis so severe. We have not regulated credit default swaps, for instance. And European banks are still highly leveraged.

Why is Greece important? Because so much of their debt is on the books of European banks. Hundreds of billions of dollars worth. And just a few years ago this seemed like a good thing. The rating agencies made Greek debt AAA, and banks could use massive leverage (almost 40 times in some European banks) and buy these bonds and make good money in the process. (Don't ask Dad why people still trust rating agencies. Some things just can't be explained.)

Except, now that Greek debt is risky. Today, it appears there will be some kind of bailout for Greece. But that is just a band-aid on a very serious wound. The crisis will not go away. It will come back, unless the Greeks willingly go into their own Great Depression by slashing their spending and raising taxes to a level that no one in the US could even contemplate. What is being demanded of them is really bad for them, but they did it to themselves.

But those European banks? When that debt goes bad, and it will, they will react to each other just like they did in 2008. Trust will evaporate. Will taxpayers shoulder the burden? Maybe, maybe not. It will be a huge crisis. There are other countries in Europe, like Spain and Portugal, that are almost as bad as Greece. Great Britain is not too far behind.

The European economy is as large as that of the US. We feel it when they go into recessions, for many of our largest companies make a lot of money in Europe. A crisis will also make the euro go down, which reduces corporate profits and makes it harder for us to sell our products into Europe, not to mention compete with European companies for global trade. And that means we all buy less from China, which means they will buy less of our bonds, and on and on go the connections. And it will all make it much harder to start new companies, which are the source of real growth in jobs.

And then in January of 2011 we are going to have the largest tax increase in US history. The research shows that tax increases have a negative 3-times effect on GDP, or the growth of the economy. As I will show in a letter in a few weeks, I think it is likely that the level of tax increases, when combined with the increase in state and local taxes (or the reductions in spending), will be enough to throw us back into recession, even without problems coming from Europe. (And no, Melissa, that is not some Republican research conspiracy. The research was done by Christina Romer, who is Obama's chairperson of the Joint Council of Economic Advisors.)

And sadly, that means even higher unemployment. It means sales at the bar where you work, Melissa, will fall farther as more of your friends lose jobs. And commissions at the electronics store where you work, Chad, will be even lower than the miserable level they're at now. And Henry, it means the hours you work at UPS will be even more difficult to come by. You are smart to be looking for more part-time work. Abbi and Amanda? People may eat out a little less, and your fellow workers will all want more hours. And Trey? Greece has little to do with the fact that you do not do your homework on time.

And this next time, we won't be able to fight the recession with even greater debt and lower interest rates, as we did this last time. Rates are as low as they can go, and this week the bond market is showing that it does not like the massive borrowing the US is engaged in. It is worried about the possibility of "Greece R Us."

Bond markets require confidence above all else. If Greece defaults, then how far away is Spain or Japan? What makes the US so different, if we do not control our debt? As Reinhart and Rogoff show, when confidence goes, the end is very near. And it always comes faster than anyone expects.

The good news? We will get through this. We pulled through some rough times as a nation in the '70s. No one, in 2020, is going to want to go back to the good old days of 2010, as the amazing innovations in medicine and other technologies will have made life so much better. You guys are going to live a very long time (and I hope I get a few extra years to enjoy those grandkids as well!). In 1975 we did not know where the new jobs would come from. It was fairly bleak. But the jobs did come, as they will once again.

The even better news? You guys are young, still babies, really. Hell, I didn't have a good year income-wise until I was in my mid-30s, and that was an accident (I literally won a cellular telephone lottery). And it has not always been smooth since then, as you know. But we get through bad stuff. That is what we do as a family and as the larger family of our nation and world.

So, what's the final message? Do what you are doing. Work hard, save, watch your spending, and think about whether your job is the right one if we have another recession. Pay attention to how profitable the company you work for is, and make yourself their most important worker. And know that things will get better. The 2020s are going to be one very cool time, as we shrug off the ending of the debt supercycle and hit the reset button. And remember, Dad is proud of you and loves you very much.

Washington DC, Albuquerque, and Guy Forsythe
It is time to hit the send button. One of the greatest blues acts in the country is in Dallas tonight, and I have good seats waiting for me. If you ever get a chance to hear Guy Forsythe, change your plans and go. He is one of the greatest acts I have ever seen.

Sunday, in a last-minute, must-go trip, I leave for Washington, DC for one night, coming back Monday. And as a special bonus, I get to spend time with Neil Howe (The Fourth Turning, etc.) for dinner, after we watch a little DC hockey. Then morning meetings and back on a plane. Wednesday I leave for Albuquerque and some dental work with Dr. Gary Sanchez (more on that next week).

And a couple pictures of my kids. The first one is last year, when Tiffani decided to dye her hair and it turned out orange. Maybe that is why my granddaughter Lively is a redhead. (There are three babies-in-waiting in that picture!)

And one a few years back of just the kids, when I still had an office in the Ballpark. Melissa is the redhead in this one.

Good times. I can feel the band warming up, so I am going to depart. Have a great week.

Your trust me, we will get through this analyst,

By John Mauldin

John Mauldin, Best-Selling author and recognized financial expert, is also editor of the free Thoughts From the Frontline that goes to over 1 million readers each week. For more information on John or his FREE weekly economic letter go to:

To subscribe to John Mauldin's E-Letter please click here:

Copyright 2010 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved
John Mauldin is president of Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor. All material presented herein is believed to be reliable but we cannot attest to its accuracy. Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. Opinions expressed in these reports may change without prior notice. John Mauldin and/or the staff at Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC may or may not have investments in any funds cited above. Mauldin can be reached at 800-829-7273.


John Mauldin Archive

© 2005-2016 - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


27 Mar 10, 18:34

Its a bit late John to bring out quotes such as -

"Any explanation is better than none." And the simpler, it seems in the investment game, the better. "The markets went up because oil went down,"

The fact of the matter is that a year ago you were saying that the markets could NOT go up because of a string of fundemental reasosn that you wrote about at length that turned out to be worthless.

NOW a year later you make excuses for being wrong.

I guess that explains why you concentrate on selling your 'conversations' for $120 to subscribers because based on what I have seen you cannot actually make money in the markets

28 Mar 10, 01:06
Mauldin sees 40% Stock market Crash

Son of Texas and financial seer, John Mauldin, believes the stock market could shed 40% in the near future (SPX). John is the president of Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC, a Dallas, Texas based investment advisor, with $600 million in assets under management.

John worries that the velocity of money, an indicator of how many times a dollar is reused in the economy, is collapsing. This ratio, which is defined by the GDP divided by the money supply, bottomed at 1.15 in 1946. It then reached a mean of 1.65 in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, and peaked at a breathtaking 2.2 times in 1997, near the top of the Dotcom bubble. It has been retreating ever since, has recently accelerated down to the 100 year mean, but still has much farther to fall to get to the bottom of the 100 year range.

The collapse of velocity signals the end of a 50 year super cycle in lending. For you and I, this means lower economic growth for perhaps another decade. It is partly the result of banks getting generous funding from the Treasury, and then sitting on it. The bucks simply stop there. It suggests that no matter how much money the government pumps into the economy, it might as well be pushing on a wet noodle.

The gold bugs have got it all wrong, simply focusing on money supply growth and expecting hyperinflation. A lot of money can sit and go nowhere. The inflation will come back with a vengeance when the economy revives and banks finally resume lending. With so much new money being created in the last two years, the chances of the Fed being able to head this off are close to nil.

Similarly, the bond vigilantes may have to wait a couple of years for their big move down in the 30 year Treasury bond (TBT). When the bond markets call “times up,” the US will be forced to embark on some highly deflationary spending cuts. If this happens during a recession, it could be a disaster.

John thinks there will be a substantial slowdown in growth in Q3 and Q4. With anticipated federal tax increases of 2% of GDP in 2011 added to a further 1% in state tax hikes, the recovery will be strangled in its crib. That’s when the risk of a double dip recession explodes. Over 3-4 years higher taxes could add up to a burdensome 9% drag on GDP.

John says that emerging markets (EEM) will decouple from the US and keep powering up, as this is where the real economic growth is (EEM). Japan is “a bug in search of a windshield.” With savings rates falling and deficit spending soaring, it may only have a couple of years left.

John has been a gold bull since 2002 (GLD), when it was below $300/ounce, and isn’t backing off from that position, but prefers to own it against Euros at this point. He thinks the entire premise for the existence of the European currency (XEU) is questionable, and sees it eventually moving to parity against the dollar.

John doesn’t manage money directly himself, but outsources assets with market timers employing a number of different models. One firm he has particular success with is CMG in Philadelphia (CMGTX). He really only selects individual stocks in the biotech area, which he thinks have the potential to develop into a bubble, and has a variety of small cap and microcap holdings.

Not pulling any punches, John said that the Republican leadership of the last congress was “criminally incompetent” in the way they unnecessarily squandered surpluses and spent their way into oblivion, leaving us without dry powder to fight the current crisis.

John has an incredibly diverse past, which includes a degree from Rice University, a stint at divinity school, and time spent running a check printing company which led him into newsletters. John then rose to the top of the American Bureau of Economic Research, and entered the fund management business in the late eighties. Today, his two letters, Outside the Box and Thoughts From the Frontline, go out on the Internet to 1.5 million readers a week. John is the publisher of three investment books, The Millennium Wave, Just One Thing, and Bulls Eye Investing. To learn more about John’s many activities in the markets, please visit his website at .

To catch my entire insightful interview with John Mauldin on Hedge Fund Radio, please go to and click on the “Today’s Radio Show” menu tab on the left. To see the data, charts, and graphs that support this research piece, as well as more iconoclastic and out of consensus analysis, please visit me at . There you will find the conventional wisdom mercilessly flailed and tortured daily.

Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Catching a Falling Financial Knife