Derek Jeter’s Big Finale…and I Was There!

Last Thursday, at the invitation of Steve Forbes, I was able to attend Derek Jeter’s last game at Yankee stadium. Mr. Forbes has season tickets and occasionally invites me to join him. Tickets were selling for $850 and more, and those were bleacher seats, so I felt lucky. The Yankees were ahead 5-2 in the 9th inning when I told Mr. Forbes that I expected the Orioles to score three runs and tie the score, forcing Jeter to bat one more time to win it all in his final time at bat at Yankee Stadium. My prediction came true. Mr. Forbes can verify it. What a night!

I can relate to Derek Jeter. He never won the Most Valuable Player award, but he was a steady, reliable performer during his 20 years with the Yankees and ended up getting five World Series rings. By the same token, I consider my 35 years writing Forecasts & Strategies as a steady performer, never personally ranking #1 in any one year. But over the long run, I delivered a winning formula for financial success.

Mark Skousen and Steve Forbes enjoy Derek Jeter’s final home game at Yankees Stadium.

U.S. Economy Doing Better Than Expected

U. S. ECONOMIC ACTIVITY HOLDS STEADY IN 1ST QUARTER 2014

Washington, DC —  Gross Output, a broader measure of  U. S. economic activity published by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, held steady at $30,210.6 billion in the first quarter of 2014.

“The GO data demonstrates that the economy is not as bad off as GDP figures initially suggested,” stated Mark Skousen, editor of Forecasts & Strategies and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, who champions Gross Output as a more comprehensive measure of economic activity.   He introduced Gross Output as a macroeconomic tool in his work The Structure of Production (New York University Press, 1990).  Now the BEA publishes GO on a quarterly basis in its “GDP by Industry” data.

The GO data was released by the BEA on Friday, July 25, 2014:  http://www.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=51&step=1#reqid=51&step=51&isuri=1&5114=q&5102=15 [Read more…]

Marx Madness is Back

“Capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine democratic societies.” — Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the 21st Century” (2014)

The Economist magazine rightly called French professor Thomas Piketty the new Marx, although a watered down Marx. His bestseller (rated #1 on Amazon and the New York Times) is a thick volume with the same title as KCapital in the Twenty-First Centuryarl Marx’s 1867 magnum opus, “Kapital.” The publisher, Harvard University Press, appropriately designed the book cover in red, the color of the socialist workers’ party.

Piketty cites Karl Marx more than any other economist, even more than Keynes. He barely mentions Adam Smith. Instead of the modern scientific name “economics,” he prefers the old term “political economy,” a favorite of radical professors. [Read more…]

Economist Makes Lead Story in the Wall Street Journal….Barron’s….and Forbes

I made the lead story in the Wednesday, April 23, 2014, edition of the Wall Street Journal.  The title:  “At Last, a Better Economic Measure.”  You can read it here:  http://on.wsj.com/PsdoLM

The editors of the WSJ don’t allow the author to see or approve the headline or subhead, but they nailed it perfect.  And I love the cartoon graphics!  It’s a perfect rendition of my four stage model of the economy.

Many readers captured the essence of my message.  As economic forecaster Jim Hagerbaumer of Florida wrote:  “Skousen is introducing a whole new species. This is one of the most important WSJ op-ed articles in years.”

I also wrote about Gross Output (GO) in the December 16, 2013, issue of Forbes.  Here’s the online version, with charts and response to critics:

My original article in Forbes Magazine (December 16, 2013):

Mark Skousen, Beyond GDP: Get Ready For A New Way To Measure The Economy, Forbes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/29/beyond-gdp-get-ready-for-a-new-way-to-measure-the-economy/

Additional Commentary by Steve Forbes:
Steve Forbes, New, Revolutionary Way To Measure The Economy Is Coming — Believe Me, This Is A Big Deal, Forbes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2014/03/26/this-may-save-the-economoy-from-keynesians-and-spend-happy-pols/

Gross Output Includes B-to-B….GDP doesn’t [Read more…]

Steve Forbes Endorses My Gross Output Statistic

“Mark Skousen’s Gross Output statistic…will have a profound and manifestly positive impact on economic policy and politics.”  — Steve Forbes, Forbes magazine, April 14, 2014

The Bureau of Economic Analysis will start releasing Gross Output (GO) along with GDP every quarter starting on Friday, April 25.  I consider it a triumph in supply side “Austrian” economics.

I think Steve Forbes captures the importance of this new national statistic in his column in the April 14 edition of Forbes.

Most of the textbook writers are going to include GO in their next edition.  Sean Flynn, now the primary writer of the McConnell/Bruce textbook, is going to highlight it.

Here’s Steve’s commentary — New, Revolutionary Way To Measure The Economy Is Coming — Believe Me, This Is A Big Deal: by Steve Forbes  http://www.forbes.com/sites/steveforbes/2014/03/26/this-may-save-the-economoy-from-keynesians-and-spend-happy-pols/

Here’s my original article in Forbes — Beyond GDP Get Ready for a New Way to Measure the Economy: by Mark Skousen  http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/29/beyond-gdp-get-ready-for-a-new-way-to-measure-the-economy/

Here’s my op ed in the Wednesday, April 23 edition of the Wall Street JournalAt Last, A Better Economic Measure: by Mark Skousen http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303532704579483870616640230.html

 

A Personal Triumph 25 Years in the Making with Launch of New Macro Statistic

For the first time since World War II, the Federal government (Bureau of Economic Analysis) will begin publishing a new macro statistic Gross Output [GO] starting in spring 2014 at the same time it releases its quarterly GDP data.

Forbes.com article has just published my article on this new statistic “Beyond GDP“: http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/11/29/beyond-gdp-get-ready-for-a-new-way-to-measure-the-economy/

A shortened version will appear in the Dec. 16 issue of Forbes magazine (circulation over 1 million).

I’ve been advocating this new national statistic since writing The Structure of Production (NYU Press) in 1990. Now it’s finally happening. Steve Forbes calls it a “real breakthrough.”

Steve Moore of the Wall Street Journal and Gene Epstein of Barron’s are looking into writing articles on GO.  So is The Economist.

Bill Nordhaus, professor at Yale University, writes, “Congratulations on the article and the work.  It has been a long slog to get the national accounts to introduce innovative measures, and Steve Landefeld [Director, BEA] has been a superstar in this respect…This will open up the potential for new insights into the behavior of the economy.”

GO goes a long way in providing the right balance in the production-consumption process that is missing in GDP data. As BEA Director Steve Landefeld and co-editors Dale Jorgenson and Bill Nordhaus state: “Gross output [GO] is the natural measure of the production sector, while net output [GDP] is appropriate as a measure of welfare. Both are required in a complete system of accounts.”

I think you’ll find the chart comparing GO and GDP of interest, how GO is consistently more volatile than GDP, and a better measure of the business cycle. (Click on the chart below to go directly to the article)

I’m excited — this is a personal triumph nearly 25 years in the making.

Most of the economics textbook writers are planning to include a section on GO in their next editions (McConnell, Parkin, Gwartney, Hubbard), and economic analysts are now starting to look at it.  In an email, Roger Leroy Miller, professor at University of Texas at Arlington, says that he has added a section on Gross Output for his 18th edition of Economics Today.  It is already part of my own Economic Logic textbook.

I hope you’ll check out the Forbes article, as well as Economic Logic and The Structure of Production for a more in-depth look at this important development.

The For-Profit Antipoverty Agency

Ideas Matter
F0RBES
November 15, 1999

The For-Profit Antipoverty Agency
by Mark Skousen

This summer’s spectacle of World Bank officials lobbying Congress for more foreign aid money was an embarrassment, or should have been. In the past half-century the bank has poured a staggering $450 billion in loans, grants and other aid into the Third World, with not very much to show for the money except some grandiose infrastructure projects. Even these bureaucrats concede that most of the money they have lent out has bypassed the poor.

Who should fill the vacuum? Can the private sector reduce poverty?

It can, and Exhibit A is the Grameen Bank, the brainchild of Muhammed Yunus, formerly an economics professor at the Chittagong University in Bangladesh. Yunus showed the World Bank how to fight poverty-at a profit.

The Grameen Bank (www.grameen.com) started in 1983 by lending amounts ranging from just $30 to $200 directly to poor people in Bangladesh. Applicants didn’t have to be able to read or write; no collateral or credit check was required.

The bank’s strategy was to lend money to entrepreneurs (or would-be entrepreneurs) who needed only a few dollars to buy supplies and tools. Borrowers might make bamboo chairs, sell goats’ milk or operate rickshaws.

By avoiding the usurious interest rates of local moneylenders-often 20% a month-many of these villagers finally broke out of poverty. Their small businesses grew, and thousands of borrowers now own land, a home (often using a $300 Grameen house loan) and even a cell phone (through Grameen Telecom).

By now, the Grameen Bank has made millions of these tiny loans, totaling $2.5 billion. Note that Grameen is a for-profit, private-sector bank that charges interest of 20% per year. Amazingly, Grameen’s loss rate is about 2%, largely because borrowers are bound together in small, local groups. If anyone in the group defaults, no one else may borrow more. That’s a powerful incentive.

You could call this social collateral. The strategy has been used by other microlenders in the Third World, and in a way it is reminiscent of what went on in small building-and-loan societies generations ago in the U.S., in which borrowers and savers all knew one another. Successful Grameen borrowers are not starving, and neither are their children. Most of the Grameen Bank’s 1,140 branches are profitable, albeit marginally. At the end of last year Grameen had $450 million in assets; for the year it managed to earn only $200,000. The bank is mostly owned by its 2.4 million borrowers, with each allowed to own only one share of stock. Yunus and other administrators are salaried employees.

Yunus’ success has inspired hundreds of other microlending operations worldwide-including at the World Bank, where $3.1 billion has been spent on microlending organizations since 1990. Ex-Wall Streeter and current World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, to his credit, has moved the bank heavily into such partnerships with the private sector.

The Grameen Bank is powerful proof that the private sector can perform most of the World Bank’s functions. There is a renaissance occurring in private charity. Credit innovative organizations like Habitat for Humanity (and its best-known hammer-wielder, Jimmy Carter), which can catch the imagination of the public; and credit the huge fortunes that have been created by the current bull market.

With the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, Bill Gates has finally shoveled some of his money out into the world. Many more bull market moguls will be giving money away. The next 50 years will see tens of trillions of dollars in wealth pass from one generation to the next, and a fair amount of this will go to charities.

The World Bank is scheduled to release a big report on world poverty next September. It should not overlook a most important lesson: The World Bank is a puny force in fighting poverty compared with the private sector. It should limit itself to encouraging developing nations to provide the infrastructure (private property rights, sound money policy, limited government) necessary for private markets and independent charities to flourish.

You Be the Banker

CLOSED-END FUND SURVEY
Forbes
September 7, 1998

You Be The Banker
by Mark Skousen

If credit risk bothers you less than interest rate risk, consider owning a prime rate fund.

Two rules of thumb on buying closed-end funds, elucidated elsewhere in this survey, have to do with the cost of ownership. One is that you should almost never pay a premium over net asset value to get a closed-end. The other is that you should be wary of a fund that has a higher than normal expense ratio. The story on page 230 sets out the reasoning for these rules.

I’d like to make a case for breaking both rules for a fund category that complements your bond portfolio. I’m talking about so-called prime rate funds. These are portfolios of bank loans, held by closed-end funds.

First, why diversify into this class of funds? Since 1994 bonds have been on a tear. But there’s a downside. Yields on 30-year Treasurys have slid to a measly 5.6%. That’s not bad in relation to recent inflation rates, but it’s a somewhat lopsided bet. It’s pretty unlikely that rates would move down another two points, handing you a fat capital gain, but it is quite possible that between now and 2028 rates could move back up two points, to where they were just a few years ago.

How, then, to get a decent yield without taking on long-term interest rate risk? Prime rate funds invest in variable-rate senior loans to corporations at interest rates tied to the so-called prime rate. Currently this benchmark at most banks is 8 1/2%. That is several percentage points higher than the yield on Treasurys, mortgage paper or money market instruments like certificates of deposit.

Even after charging stiff fees of 1.4% or more, funds holding these loans are yielding at least 7%. Although the net asset value of the funds is not completely unchanging, like that of money market funds, the fluctuations to date have been minuscule.

There’s a reason why you should be willing to stomach those high expense ratios: Your fund, to a degree, is acting more like a bank than a bond fund. It has to appraise borrowers’ credit quality and take a chance on an investment that is not traded every day and is not liquid. There’s a lot more work involved than there is in taking positions in five Treasury notes and sitting on them.

What happens when interest rates shoot up and bond prices fall? Conventional bond funds get hammered, but the prime rate funds, whose interest income floats up with the prime rate, have been remarkably stable. In 1994, when investors suffered terrible capital losses on longterm bonds, Pilgrim America Prime Rate Trust enjoyed a stable net asset value and delivered more than 7.5% total return for the year.

What’s the downside? For one, declining interest income if the prime rate declines. Next, credit quality. The senior loans are collateralized and go to respectable borrowers, but there are no government guarantees. Third, liquidity. Two funds trade publicly, but the rest are redeemable only quarterly.

Among the funds I like are Van Kampen Prime Rate Trust B shares, currently yielding 7%. Unlike the Pilgrim fund, it doesn’t use leverage. You buy at net asset value. The fund offers shareholders the ability to tender shares quarterly, receiving net asset value less a redemption charge starting at 3% the first year and then declining 1/2% per year. A brand-new sister fund, Van Kampen Senior Income Fund, will use leverage and deliver a slightly better yield. Senior Income trades publicly as a closed-end and is currently at a slight premium.

Pilgrim America Prime Rate Trust, the oldest of the breed (trading since 1992), sports an 8% yield, goosed up by some leverage. Caution: Pilgrim can play tough. In 1995 shareholders were dismayed by a rights issue that forced them to either add to their holdings or risk dilution. At a recent $10.16, Pilgrim goes for a slight premium. Try to get it for less than $10.

Emerging Markets Floating Rate Fund is for the brave. This one invests in floating-rate loans to governments in Latin America, eastern Europe, Asia and Africa. With emerging markets out of favor, the shares have dropped from $17.75 in June 1997 to a recent $12.88, close to net asset value. The yield is 12%, but that figure makes no allowance for loan losses–and you just might see a default on some of these loans someday.

Forbes · September 7, 1998

The Exuberant Wade Cook

Ideas Matter
FORBES

By Mark Skousen

The first time I met Wade B. Cook was at a seminar for small investors in the early 1980s, when real estate and other inflation hedges were the rage. Cook gave a workshop on how to buy and sell mortgages–“discounted paper”–for quick profits, which he called the Real Estate Money Machine, which became a best-selling book of the same name. Forget buy-and-hold, he urged. Speculate. Trade mortgages: “Roll them.” Churning mortgages to create a “money machine.”

For a while Cook sold lots of books and tapes and had lots of fans, but apparently his money machine stopped working, and in 1984 he filed for bankruptcy well ahead of the real estate crash that took place later in the decade.

I thought Wade Cook would disappear like the rest of the get rich-off-real-estate gang, but I was wrong. He’s back, reincarnated as a stock market expert. Three of his books are on the Business Week bestseller list: Wall Street Money Machine, Wall Street Miracles and Bear Market Baloney. His book Real Estate Money Machine is back in print. His company is on the radio, promoting his one-day seminars, his books, videos and his three-day, $4,700 Wade Cook Workshops. Apparently the fish are biting.

Never one to overlook an opportunity, Cook has taken his company public (Nasdaq: WADE), and it has risen 500% in the past year. Recent market cap: $210 million. Cook owns 62% of the stock.

Cook’s enticements would catch the eye of any red-blooded investor: Get 14% to 34% monthly returns-consistently! Double your money every 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 months! The evangelist is not timid: “I’m into formulas which produce safe, sane 20%-plus monthly returns,” he says.

You don’t even need patience for the Cook approach: He promises fast results. In his books he annualizes his weekly, daily and even hourly returns. You’d think people would know better, but apparently they don’t.

How does Cook suggest going about investing? Forget buy-and-hold, he urges once again. Trade options. Make full use of margin. Turn your stocks over constantly. “Roll them” like a money machine. He urges buying stock right before the ex-dividend date, capturing the dividend and then selling. But doesn’t the stock price drop by the amount of the dividend “This is not always the case,” Cook claims.

For quicker profits, Cook goads his followers to load up on companies announcing stock splits. He pleads, “Show me a company that has done a stock split, which one year later (or two) is trading down.” Want faster profits? Buy options and buy on margin.

Can’t you get into trouble with a margin account? “Absolutely not.” It’s not surprising that with claims like these Cook’s company has been the subject of a fraud investigation by the SEC since March 1996. He denies any wrongdoing. And goes right on leading naive investors to potential doom.

Perhaps Alan Greenspan had Wade Cook in mind when he referred to “irrational exuberance” on Wall Street. It’s certainly irrational. This is the same nonsense Cook was peddling nearly 20 years ago, but this time it’s stocks, not real estate. The advice is just as dangerous and the people buying it are just as uninformed.

What I find scary is that there is a market for this stuff. The last time Cook prospered was when real estate became overheated and later crashed. Is his resurgence a harbinger of doom. Is the popularity of his stock market stuff telling us something? I hope not.

If it’s good stock market advice you want, read J. Paul Getty’s 12-page chapter on “The Wall Street Investor” in his classic work How to Be Rich. Sample: “The seasoned investor buys his stocks when they are priced low, holds them for the long-pull rise and takes in-between dips and slumps in his stride.” There’s more wisdom in those 26 simple words than in all the get-rich books ever written.

Forbes, December 1, 1997

How to Keep off The Forbes Four Hundred

Ideas Matter
FORBES

How to Keep off The Forbes Four Hundred
By Mark Skousen


“You see that man over there driving that tractor,” my father asked me as we drove by a farm. “He’s a millionaire.” This was in the 1950s. There weren’t a lot of millionaires around in the 1950s. Only my father, who was his attorney, knew that his net worth placed him among the highest 1% of the state’s citizens.

Dad’s client was no miser. He just didn’t believe in flaunting it. Maintaining a low profile is an established American tradition. You don’t have to be a drug dealer to prefer secrecy, anonymity, unlisted telephone numbers. It saves you a lot of bother and unwanted attention. Justice Louis Brandeis once said: “The right most prized by civilized man is the right to be left alone.”

A Warren Buffett cannot preserve his privacy, no matter how hard he tries. He runs a publicly traded company that controls many household names. The same with Bill Gates and with almost anyone who heads a big public company. Donald Trump does not, of course, even want to be anonymous.

But if the stock market or the business world has been good to you and you would just as soon not attract a lot of attention, here are some suggestions.

A prominent international tax attorney (who wishes to remain anonymous, of course) told me, “I know two dozen people who have avoided The Forbes Four Hundred list by going offshore.” He’s not talking about doing it to cheat Uncle Sam–though many people try that. There are legitimate motives: becoming judgment-proof, divorce-proof, or maybe even Forbes-proof.
Here are some ways to avoid tenacious Forbes researchers, litigious relatives and greedy ex-spouses:

1. Own real estate and other assets through non-identifiable trusts or corporations. Trusts may include a revocable living trust, land trust or charitable remainder trust. Such trusts not only avoid probate, but also can hide the identity of property owners. An irrevocable trust can convey ownership of real estate to others. In addition, the corporate veil can hide ownership; Nevada bearer corporations and Delaware corporations are especially popular for this purpose. Real estate expert John Schaub of Sarasota, Fla. has written a report on the subject, “Financial Privacy and Asset Protection for Real Estate Investors” (800-237-9222, $19). In addition to owning property in the name of a trust or corporation, Schaub recommends renting with an option to buy as a way to profit from appreciating real estate without getting noticed. The main drawback with this approach is that you don’t have the same protection against competing claims to the property that you do with a recorded deed.

2. Buy coins, art and collectibles through a reputable dealer or bid at auctions–both anonymously. The right collectibles are portable, recognizable and easily transferable: gold bullion, rare coins, diamonds and other gems.

3. Use trusts and international business corporations (IBCs). This is the ultimate privacy vehicle for wealthy Americans. In addition to foreign bank accounts and real estate, foreign trusts and corporations give additional protection through the use of nominee directors and shareholders. Note: Offshore accounts must be disclosed on Schedule B of your 1040 tax return.
An excellent source for these techniques is Financial Privacy Report, a newsletter edited by Michael Ketcher (612-895-8757, $99, annually).
I recently read in The Wealthy 100 that Ben Franklin was, after taking inflation and relative values into account, among the 100 wealthiest Americans ever. Old Ben had a saying that still resonates with many Americans: “Let every man know thee, but let no man know thee thoroughly.” Though he was a patriotic American, if Ben were around today, I suspect he would keep his affairs private by going offshore–probably to Paris.

Forbes · October 20, 1997