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John Mauldin

John Mauldin

Financial NY Times best-selling author, pioneering online commentator. Over 1 million readers turn to Mauldin for his view on Wall Street, markets, and history.

Articles by John Mauldin

Light in the COVID Tunnel

August 28, 2020

If you ever think you just can’t win, I know how you feel. I’m labeled both a doomsayer and a Pollyanna—sometimes in reaction to the same letter.
In fact, I am neither. I used to be the “muddle-through” guy who acknowledged difficulty but expected eventual success. Recently I modified that to “stumble-through,” acknowledging today’s more intense challenges. Earlier this month, I said we are entering a Depression-like period for much of the economy. But I still think we’ll make it through.

Financial markets are strong in part due to confidence we will have effective COVID-19 treatments and/or vaccines soon.

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Business on the Frontline

August 21, 2020

I write this introduction from an all-too-short vacation in Montana (more below). This week I have asked my longtime associate Patrick Watson to step in and write Thoughts from the Frontline, offering his perspective as a small business owner.
As you read this, realize his story is being played out hundreds of thousands of times all over the US and maybe millions of times all over the world. It is why I said last week that this depression/recession is unlike any we have experienced. Parts of our economy are doing well, parts are in recession, and a significant portion is already in a depression. As government

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The Second Great Depression… But Not Really

August 14, 2020

"It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job;it’s a depression when you lose yours."

—Harry S. Truman, 33rd US President
In recent weeks, numerous commentators started to suggest the US and the world are entering a depression.

For some areas of the economy, that is clearly true. But not every area.

Today we will explore what some smart minds are saying about the current economic environment. I’ll also aim to help you navigate through its complexity.

Here’s one thing I think we can all agree on…

This recession/depression is unlike anything we have experienced in the history of the US.

I am at a loss to

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Yellow Flag Jobs Data

August 7, 2020

As I file this letter Friday morning, people are reacting to the July jobs report. My own reaction: The headline report is absurd. I will explain further at the end of this letter. But first, I have another topic.
Regular readers know I worry about debt, mainly that the world has too much of it. But it’s a little more nuanced. Whether debt is excessive depends largely on what it buys.

Debt is problematic when it underwrites unnecessary consumption. Going on vacation, for instance, is generally a bad idea if it saddles you with years of credit card payments. But debt helps when used to finance productive assets.

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European Resurgence

July 31, 2020

One of COVID-19’s many less-than-obvious consequences is the way it makes us look inward. Facing mortality has always done that, of course. West Texas Judge Roy Bean reportedly said, “Nothing focuses the mind like a good hanging.” For the vulnerable and those of us of a certain age (ahem), this virus goes beyond the normal daily risks.
The difference this time is we are vulnerable based on proximity. The virus threatens us only if it is physically near. That’s one reason Americans didn’t take it seriously at first. It was far-way Chinese and Italian news. Like reading about the all-too-terrible prospect of

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Valuation Inflation

July 24, 2020

“In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”

            —Benjamin Graham
You may have noticed a bit of manic activity in the stock market. You may have also noticed inflation (as measured by various government agencies) is quite low, despite a supply interruption in numerous goods and services.

These aren’t separate events. Both are consequences of the pandemic. Specifically, they result from the government and central bank response to the pandemic. As necessary as their actions may have been, they have side effects, many unintended and some of which

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Small Business Blues

July 17, 2020

Politicians love saying small businesses are important to the economy. In this case, it isn’t just rhetoric. The millions of little companies with a handful of workers are, collectively, more important than the few hundred large enterprises we see in the news.
That’s one reason the corona crisis has been so economically devastating. It hit hardest the small businesses that are both critical to growth and vulnerable to disasters. Yes, I know, some large businesses have been eviscerated (e.g., airlines) but small business have been hit harder. Furthermore, the policy responses haven’t been especially helpful or

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Stumble-Through Jobs Market

July 10, 2020

Work has always been a fact of life. Paycheck-producing jobs are actually a recent development. Until the Industrial Revolution, most people lived on subsistence agriculture, sustaining themselves with whatever they could produce or working as slaves/serfs.
The practice of producing something you wouldn’t personally use had been around but reached a new stage with the Industrial Revolution. It wasn’t without controversy, either. Karl Marx had major issues with it.

But now we are at the other extreme. Most of us work for some form of paycheck, even the self-employed. Few subsist on their own efforts. The

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The Blacker Swan

July 3, 2020

“A similar effect is taking place in economic life. I spoke about globalization in Chapter 3; it is here, but it is not all for the good: it creates interlocking fragility, while reducing volatility and giving the appearance of stability. In other words, it creates devastating Black Swans. We have never lived before under the threat of a global collapse. Financial institutions have been merging into a smaller number of very large banks. Almost all banks are now interrelated. So, the financial ecology is swelling into gigantic, incestuous, bureaucratic banks (often Gaussianized [bell curve] in their risk measurement)—when

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A Recession Like No Other

June 26, 2020

We just spent the better part of a decade wondering when the next recession would strike. The last two months we stopped wondering. It’s here and a grand council of esteemed economists has confirmed it.
On June 8, the Business Cycle Dating Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research found monthly economic activity had peaked in February 2020. On a quarterly basis, the peak was in Q4 2019, but in either case, a recession is now underway.

It’s important to recognize how they define “recession.”

A recession is a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, normally visible in

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Where We Go from Here

June 19, 2020

Predictions are difficult, especially those about the future. That old proverb (often attributed to Yogi Berra) is right but you can’t live without making certain presumptions. You presume your car will start, your refrigerator will stay cold, the lights will turn on when you flip the switch.
In fact, you could argue this “predictability” separates advanced economies from primitive ones. Most of us don’t have to worry about being attacked in our sleep or having food tomorrow. That security frees us to do other things.

Right now, some basic assumptions are no longer safe. The economy will keep suffering until

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The Stumble-Through Economy

June 12, 2020

We are on the horns of a dilemma, caught between the Scylla and Charybdis, a rock and a hard place, the devil and the deep blue sea, the anvil and the hammer. The walls are closing in. We’re in a tight spot.
All those metaphors (I could list more but will spare you) fit the present economic situation (some are now calling the omni-crisis) and I think will also describe the 2020s.

Thanks to forces that were already in motion and coronavirus as the trigger, we are out of good choices. Every possible fiscal, monetary, social, and political policy will have negative effects, some larger than others. All we can do is

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COVID-19: A Data-Driven Analysis

June 5, 2020

Should you wear a mask in public? This seemingly simple question immediately generates emotional, political, and social anxiety.
It is just one of many provocative questions COVID-19 is forcing upon us. They should be simple, data-driven policy issues but many are not.

Today’s letter is in a different format from the usual Thoughts from the Frontline. As long-time readers know, I am in frequent (and lately almost daily) contact with Dr. Mike Roizen, emeritus head of wellness at the famous Cleveland Clinic, member of the Cleveland Clinic’s leadership team, and author of many books which, thanks to Oprah (he was

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Economics in Orbit

May 29, 2020

The history of humanity, at least as taught in most schools, is really about two seemingly opposite forces: human innovation and human conflict. The same intelligence that lets us accomplish great things also sets us against each other. But sometimes, we rise above it.
Last week I saw on Twitter (where you should follow me, by the way. Seriously. I am really getting into late night Twitter as my relaxing/learning/commenting time, something I never expected), someone saying the COVID-19 pandemic may be the single most “global” event in human history. It’s happening almost everywhere, to almost everyone, at about

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Rewinding the Tape

May 22, 2020

We finished the Virtual Strategic Investment Conference yesterday. I can honestly say it was simply the best conference I have ever attended or been privileged to host. The ability to bring together so many exciting speakers, something schedules would not have allowed if we were holding a physical conference, offered a constant stream of thought-provoking, investment-enhancing, and useful information.
I shared some highlights in last week’s letter, will tell you more today, and probably yet more next week. But you really need to experience it yourself, and you still can with our Virtual Pass package that includes

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Reflection Week

May 15, 2020

I knew this letter’s topic months ago. It was going to be a review of the Strategic Investment Conference, which would have just concluded fabulously in sunny Scottsdale.
Well, something intervened. Coronavirus precautions kept us from having an in-person conference. No one was more disappointed than me. I often say SIC is the highlight of my year, and I’m not kidding. Being around so many brilliant minds, soaking up their knowledge, and all the while meeting and talking with so many loyal readers and close friends—it’s just an amazing experience.

Yet I have to say, the Virtual SIC we are now halfway through is

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Five Viral Lessons

May 8, 2020

We live in truly historic times. “There are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when decades happen,” says a quote usually attributed to Vladimir Lenin. It certainly fits now.
For thousands of years, people who lived through what we call “history” didn’t realize it. We are the exceptions. We’re seeing history and we know it. The Vietnam War was certainly historic, but the coronavirus killed more Americans in the last two months than died in that long conflict. The Great Depression was historic but by some indicators we are well on the way to matching it. The Manhattan Project and the Apollo missions were

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The Figure-It-Out Economy

May 1, 2020

Market sentiment reflects human sentiment, which lately has been quite negative—understandably so, given the great uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. A month ago, we didn’t know where all this was going but it was potentially serious.
I can almost begin to sense sentiment changing. New drug therapies are being announced and dozens of vaccines are in development. There is a high probability one or more will work by the end of the year. Deployment will be difficult, but doable. This change in sentiment, combined with generous fiscal support and liquidity injections, gives investors more confidence,

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Viral Thoughts

April 24, 2020

We are looking at a world with parameters bounded by pure imagination; where we go from here is anyone’s guess.

—Will Thomson and Chip Russell, Massif Capital
Today’s letter will be another hop-around review of the crisis landscape. I’ll touch on several topics instead of going deep into a single theme. So much is going on, it’s really hard to know where to start. There will be something to annoy everybody. So, let’s just dive in.

Actually, let’s start with some good news. I talked with Dr. Joseph Kim of Inovio yesterday. They are beginning the initial safety/immune response phase human trials of a vaccine

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Repricing the World

April 17, 2020

The viral fog is starting to thin. US coronavirus case growth appears to be slowing, albeit at a tragically high level. Governments and businesses are thinking about the next stage.
On the other hand, fog tends to return when the weather is right. Might this virus come back, as seems to be happening in Japan and Singapore? We shouldn’t relax just yet.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site published an information-filled comic about the wide gaps in various “scientific” virus models. Just as in investing and climate change, accurate models are difficult. Just a sample:

Source: FiveThirtyEight

We know everything

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Bending the Inflation Curve

April 10, 2020

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output. … A steady rate of monetary growth at a moderate level can provide a framework under which a country can have little inflation and much growth.”

—Milton Friedman, The Counter-Revolution in Monetary Theory (1970)
“Well, maybe…”

—John Mauldin, with more than a little hubris, 2020

I am widely known as the “muddle through” guy. I describe problems then explain how we will get through them, slowly but surely.

That analogy isn’t appropriate for

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Notes from Lockdown

April 3, 2020

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.

—Eric Hoffer
Greetings from Puerto Rico, where this frequent traveler is evidently home for an unusually long time.

I want to start today by thanking everyone for your kind wishes for my daughter, Amanda. She is now in rehab. Therapy is going well and she will go home soon. Her stroke was serious and would have been worse had her husband not discovered her quickly. They know what caused it, which can be controlled, and are optimistic about a full recovery.

Several

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Postcards from the Frontline

March 27, 2020

Unprecedented events are happening so fast, I barely know where to start. But let’s begin with a small one, noticeable perhaps only to me.
Over the years I’ve received thousands of reader emails responding to my letters. I read and appreciate them all, even the critical ones. Often the readers mention where they were when reading my letter. They read me on planes, trains, golf courses, beaches, campgrounds, limos, offices, hotels, and everywhere else you can imagine.

But today, I can confidently predict almost all of you will read this letter… at home.

At least, I hope you are home. And I hope your home is

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The Beacons Are Lit

March 20, 2020

In the film version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, there’s a three-minute scene you should watch or re-watch. It is relevant to our situation today. Gondor needed to light the beacons for aid.
Click here for video.

At the other end of the beacons, no one is sure whether the very reluctant king will honor the ancient, thousands-year-old treaty. Then you see the doubt on his face turn to firm resolve as he gives the order: “And Rohan will answer.”

Now, in answering, Rohan wasn’t simply helping its ally. The enemy was coming for them, too. They were very aware of that fact. Saving Gondor was

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Coronavirus Is Not an Emergency. It’s a War.

March 19, 2020

This is a short midweek note, something I haven’t done for years. But as we all know, these are very special and difficult times.
Below, I’ll give you two links. They describe the nature of the new coronavirus pandemic and its potential consequences. I have run this past the best medical professionals I know, and they agree.

I was critical of the Federal Reserve for its emergency moves last Sunday. I now assume they had the same information that I’m giving you today. They weren’t panicking, they were trying to get ahead of the situation, going where we know we need to go and doing it now. Good on them. I

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Coronavirus Helicopter Money

March 13, 2020

I write this letter early Friday morning after a week in New York visiting with many fellow market participants. And lots of phone calls, both to analysts and medical experts. I had originally planned a completely different letter but circumstances changed.
Humility is a good thing to have when you’re forecasting the economy or markets. You never know what relevant facts you might be missing, so it’s best not to be too confident.

In my annual and decade forecasts, published just two months ago, I said recession probably wouldn’t happen this year, absent an exogenous event. Now, thanks to COVID-19, I am far less

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Chinese Coronavirus Changeup

March 6, 2020

In baseball, there is a kind of pitch called the “changeup,” designed to look like a fastball while actually going slower. The deceived batter swings too soon and misses. Strike, you’re out. The world has thrown a wicked biological changeup at the global economy.
This is kind of how coronavirus fear is spreading from China to the rest of the world and now the US. We think it’s coming fast. Many Americans have swung at the pitch by selling stocks, stocking up on food, cancelling travel plans, and so on. Those may prove to be wise choices. But in fact, the ball is still coming.

As of now, the medical data is a

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COVID-19: A Crisis the Fed Can’t Fix

February 28, 2020

For the last 3+ years, I have maintained it would take an “exogenous” event to send the United States into recession. Historically suboptimal growth? Sure, but sub-3% growth isn’t a recession.
The coronavirus obviously qualifies as an exogenous event. But that doesn’t mean a textbook two-quarter recession, although it certainly may. Financial markets aren’t waiting to find out what COVID-19 will do. Much of the selling is fear of the unknown. The modern world hasn’t faced anything quite like this, and it’s coming at a time when the economy is vulnerable for other reasons.

We actually face two concurrent crises.

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Why Americans Want Socialism

February 21, 2020

As I write this, a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” is leading the race for one of our major parties’ presidential nomination. The fact that so many Americans (especially young Americans) support Bernie Sanders ought to tell us something. A Quinnipiac poll out this week showed Senator Sanders with 54% support among Democrats age 18–34. Meanwhile, 50% of adults under 38 told the Harris Poll last year that they would “prefer living in a socialist country.”
I don’t believe they really want socialism. Few even understand what it is. What they want is change. They see little hope for improvement in their

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Depending on the Undependable

February 14, 2020

The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of [GDP].”

—Simon Kuznets (who developed GDP), 1934
At the risk of restating the obvious, production should result in a product the producer can recognize. That’s the case even for intangible products. Artists know their songs even if hearing a pirate copy.

This also applies to a country’s aggregate production, i.e., Gross Domestic Product. Of course, we can’t expect the government to count every single widget we make. Nor should we want them to; the collection process would be pretty intrusive. But they should be able to make a reasonably close

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