What?s Going on With the VXX?

Much of Wall Street was scratching their heads yesterday as the iPath S&P 500 Vix Short Term Futures ETN (VXX) plunged to new lifetime lows despite a 69 point decline in the Dow index. It wasn?t supposed to work that way. Falling markets should send investors scrambling to buy downside protection in the form of put options which would automatically send the volatility index skyward. Except when they don?t.

I spoke to over 30 market participants yesterday attempting to root out the cause of this seeming anomaly. All I got was shrugs or idle speculation. A (VXX) at this level assumes that the complacency now endemic in the market will continue for several more months. It is betting that the S&P 500 will continue moving sideways or up with no pull backs greater that 2%. Oh, really?

It is also discounting a rise in the (SPX) to 1,500, based on a multiple expansion from 14 to 15, while corporate earnings are falling. This will see confirmation when Q1, 2012 earnings start to hit in April. Oh, really again? It will do this in the face of economies that are dramatically slowing in both Europe and china while oil prices are spiking. Oh, really, a third time?

I finally got through to some friends in the Chicago pits who explained what was going on. A sizeable portion of the trading community believes that we will see a rise in volatility someday, but not in the near future. So they have been buying June and September call option in the volatility index (VIX). To pay for these they have been selling short calls in the front month April and May calls.

Since the (VXX) focuses on only the front two months of the options calendar, it has taken an inordinate brunt of the selling. This is why the (VXX) has continued a rapid decent even on days when the (VIX) was stable and the Dow was down. The first hint we got of this was on Monday, March 12 when traders started to roll in earnest from the March to the April (VIX) contract.

When they started executing this trade in December, both the short term and long term volatility were trading around 28. Holding a June or September call while selling calls for each expiring month against it has kept long dated volatility high at 28, but driven short term volatility down to an eye popping 14. Needless to say, it has been a huge money maker for the early participants.

How does this end? At some point we do get a serious sell off in the stock market, and the (VIX) rockets back up to 28 or higher. That means that anyone who initiates this position now will get slaughtered. But the long term players will simply write those losses off against the substantial short dated premium they have taken in in the meantime.

As long as this dynamic is in place, there really is no limit to how far the (VXX) can fall. As traders roll from one expiring month to the next, they will continue to hammer volatility. So when the (VXX) hit my stop loss at $20, the previous lifetime low for this contract, I let it stand and followed up with a trade alert reminder investors to bail.

Any loss that you don?t learn from is a wasted lesson that is bound to be repeated. The key in this situation is to make sure the hits don?t become life threatening by limiting them to small single digits. The combined loss of my two errant (VXX) trades came to -3.46% for my notional $100,000 portfolio. That is not the end of the world. It simply cancels out the profits I made earlier on my short positions in the Japanese yen and natural gas, as well as my long call spreads in Apple and Microsoft. Coming out here also lets me shrink and neutralize my book, a good think in these uncertain times.

I?m sure we?ll see the (VXX) above $30 sometime this year. I just don?t want to bleed to death before it happens.




Markets Can Remain Irrational Longer Than you Can Remain Solvent

The Structural Bear Case for Treasury Bonds

If you want to delve into the case against the long term future of US Treasury bonds in all their darkness, take a look at Foreign Affairs, the establishment bimonthly journal read by academics, intelligence agencies, and politicians alike, which I am sure you all have sitting on your nightstands. In a well-researched and thought out article penned by Roger C. Altman and Richard N. Haas, the road to ruin ahead of us is clearly laid out.

The US has no history of excessive debt, except during WWII, when it briefly exceeded 100% of GDP. That abruptly changed in 2001, when George W. Bush took office. In short order, the new president implemented massive tax cuts, provided expanded Medicare benefits for seniors, and launched two wars, causing budgets deficits to explode at the fastest rate in history. To accomplish this, strict ?pay as you go? rules enforced by the previous Clinton administration were scrapped. The net net was to double the national debt to $10.5 trillion in a mere eight years.

Another $4.5 trillion in Keynesian reflationary deficit spending by president Obama since then has taken matters from bad to worse. The Congressional Budget Office is now forecasting that, with the current spending trajectory and THE 2010 tax compromise, total debt will reach $23 trillion by 2020, or some 160% of today?s GDP, 1.6 times the WWII peak.
By then, the Treasury will have to pay a staggering $5 trillion a year just to roll over maturing debt. What?s more, these figures greatly understate the severity of the problem. They do not include another $9 trillion in debts guaranteed by the federal government, such as bonds issued by home mortgage providers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. State and local governments owe another $3 trillion. Double interest rates, a certainty if commodity price inflation continues unabated, and our debt service burden doubles as well.

It is unlikely that the warring parties in Congress will kiss and make up anytime soon, especially if we get another split congress after the November election. It is therefore likely that the capital markets will emerge as the sole source of any fiscal discipline, with the return of the ?bond vigilantes? to US shores after their prolonged sojourn in Europe. They have already made their predatory presence known in the profligate nations of Europe, and they are expected to arrive here eventually.

Such forces have not been at play in Washington since the early 1980?s, when bond yields reached 13%, and homeowners paid 18% for mortgages. Since foreign investors hold 50% of our debt, policy responses will not be dictated by the US, but by the Mandarins in Beijing and Tokyo. They could enforce a cut back in defense spending from the current annual $700 billion. They might even demand a retreat from our $150 billion a year commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Personally, I think the US will never recover from the debt explosions engineered by Bush and by ?deficits don?t count? vice president Chaney. The outcome has permanently lowered standards of living for middle class Americans and reduced influence on the global stage.

But don?t get mad about our national debt debacle, get even. Make a killing profiting from the coming collapse of the US Treasury market through buying the leveraged short Treasury bond ETF, the (TBT). Just pick your entry point carefully so you don?t get shaken out in a correction.


Looks Like I Can?t Afford the Next War

US Headed Towards Energy Independence

My inbox was clogged with responses to my ?Golden Age? for the 2020?s piece yesterday, particularly my forecast that the US was moving towards complete energy independence. This will be the most important change to the global economy for the next 20 years. So I shall go into more depth.

The energy research house, Raymond James, put out an estimate this morning that domestic American oil production (USO) would rise from 5.6 million barrels a day to 9.1 million by 2015. That means its share of total consumption will leap from 28% to 46% of our total 20 million barrels a day habit. These are game changing numbers.

Names like the Eagle Ford, Haynesville, and the Bakken Shale, once obscure references on geological maps, are now a major force in the country?s energy picture. Ten years ago North Dakota was suffering from depopulation. Now, itinerate oil workers must brave -40 degree winter temperatures in their recreational vehicles pursuing their $150,000 a year jobs.

The value of this extra 3.5 million barrels/day works out to $134 billion a year at current prices (3.5 million X 365 X $105). That will drop America?s trade deficit by nearly 25% over the next three years, and almost wipe out our current account surplus. Needless to say, this is a hugely dollar positive development.

This 3.5 million barrels will also offset much of the growth in China?s oil demand for the next three years. Fewer oil exports to the US also vastly expand the standby production capacity of Saudi Arabia.

If you want proof of the impact this will have on the economy, look no further that the coal (KOL) and rail stocks (UNP) which have been falling in a rising market. Power plant conversion from coal to natural gas (UNG) is accelerating at a dramatic pace. That leaves China as the remaining buyer, and their economy is slowing.

It all makes the current price of oil at $105 look a little rich. As with the last oil spike three years ago, this one is occurring in the face of a supply glut. Cushing, Oklahoma is awash in Texas tea, and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve stashed away in salt domes in Texas and Louisiana is at its maximum capacity of 727 barrels. It is concerns about war with Iran, fanned by elections in both countries that have taken prices up from $75 in the fall.

My oil industry friends tell me this fear premium has added $30-$40 to the price of crude. This is why I have been advising readers to sell short oil price spikes to $110. The current run up isn?t going to take us to the $150 high that we saw in the last cycle. It is also why I am keeping oil companies with major onshore domestic assets, like Exxon Mobile (XOM) and Occidental Petroleum (OXY), in my long term model portfolio.







When Sterilization is Not a Form of Birth Control

I received a flurry of inquires the other day when Ben Bernanke mention the word ?sterilization? in his recent congressional testimony. And he wasn?t giving advice to the country?s wayward teenaged girls, either.

Sterilization refers to a specific style of monetary policy. Sterilized policies seek to manipulate the money markets without changing the overall money supply. The Fed implemented just such a strategy last summer when they initiated their ?twist? policy. This involved buying 10, 20, and 30 Treasury bonds and selling short an equal amount of short term Treasury bills.

The goal here was to force investors out of the safety of Treasury bonds and into riskier assets like stocks, commodities, and real estate. Given the market action since then, I?d say that he at least partially succeeded.

Dollar for dollar there is no change in the Fed?s balance sheet when sterilized actions are undertaken, although there is a huge increase in the risk profile of their portfolio. A private institution would be insane to do this at this stage of the economic cycle, as the risk of capital loss is great. But governments are exempt from mark to market rules and can carry this paper at cost or par, whatever they want. That?s why we have a central bank.

The Fed is now running up against a unique problem. The twist program is so large that it is literally running out of short term securities to sell. When this happens, they may well resort to 28 day repurchase agreements instead, which are essentially sales of short term paper out the back door. This is what Uncle Ben was attempting to explain to our congressional leaders, which I?m sure went straight over their heads.

The really interesting thing here is why Bernanke is suddenly interested in sterilization? These are the types of polices you pursue to head off inflation. With wages continuing to fall it is difficult to see why this should be an issue.

Maybe he?s looking at the price of gasoline or the stock market instead, which have recently been going through the roof. Perhaps he?s looking several years down the road. The great challenge for the Federal Reserve from here will be unwinding their massive $2.8 trillion balance sheet it build up during the Great Recession without triggering runaway price increases.

If Bernanke does have an inkling of coming inflation it could have huge implications for a security dear to my heart, the (TBT), a leveraged ETF that benefits from falling Treasury bond prices. Although it has been flat lining for the last four months, you better keep this one on your short list. It?s just a matter of time before we get an upside breakout.

For an excellent explanation of the history of monetary sterilization, please click here.


No, Not This One

Take a Look at Cheniere Energy (LNG)

I am constantly asked if there are any ways investors can take advantage of the collapse of the natural gas market, where at $2.34/MBTU prices are plumbing decade lows. I have recently made good money buying puts on the ETF (UNG), but these are not for the faint of heart. They call this contract the ?widow maker? for a good reason.

You don?t want to touch the gas producing companies, like Chesapeake (CHK) and Devon (DVN), because prices are probably going to stay down for years. Good firms that benefit from the increased volume of gas pumped are few and far between. Unless you are a large consumer of this despised molecule, such as an electric power company or a petrochemical plant, it is tough to find a profitable niche.

However, there is one company that delivers a narrow rifle shot that could do extremely well in coming years, and that is Cheniere Energy (LNG). I first started following (LNG) a decade ago when I was still wildcatting for CH4 in the Texas Barnet Shale.

Back when natural gas was trading at a loft $5/MBTU, Qatar invested $50 billion in in developing its own substantial gas resources. The plan was to liquefy the gas at -256 degrees Fahrenheit in the Middle East, ship it to the US in a fleet of specialized LNG carriers, and have Cheniere convert it back into gas at its Sabine River plant for distribution to an energy hungry US market through the Creole Trail pipeline. It all looked like a great plan, and (LNG) shares traded up to $45.

Then ?fracking? technology came along and blew up the entire model. The discovery of a new 100 year supply of gas under our feet caused gas prices to crash from a post Amaranth peak of $17/MBTU down to $2/MBTU. Any plans to import LNG from the other side of the world were rendered utterly worthless. Chenier?s billion dollar investment in a gasification plant was now worth only so much scrap metal. (LNG) shares plumbed low single digits as the firm flirted with bankruptcy.

Enter China. The Middle Kingdom?s voracious demand for energy in this recovery has caused the price of oil to soar from a 2008 low of $30 to $110. Despite accounting for an overwhelming share of the world?s new energy purchases, Chinese cities are suffering from brown outs due to power shortages. This is why China is resisting immense American pressure to quit buying Texas tea from Iran.

Enter the arbitrage. While oil has been spiking, gas has been crashing. Gas is now selling at 15% of the cost of oil on an adjusted BTU basis. Another way of saying this is that you can buy oil for $16 a barrel instead of $110. It only takes a second with an abacus to understand the appeal of such a disparity.

Gas also has the additional benefits in that it is much cleaner burning than crude, lacks the sulfur and nitrogen dioxides, and produces half the carbon dioxide. That?s a big deal in Beijing where the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife on a bad day.

Enter the long term contracts. During the 1960?s and 1970?s Japan entered into huge long term contracts to buy LNG from Australia and Indonesia to feed their own economic miracle of the day. Because very expensive, hard to get or offshore supplies were tapped, the price was set at $16/MBTU. Those contacts are now expiring. Do you think they?ll renew at the old price, or go to Cheniere for the $2 stuff. Gee, let me think about that one for a bit.

Enter Fukushima. The nuclear meltdown last March prompted Japan to shut down 49 of 54 nuclear power plants that accounted for 25% of the country?s electric power generation. The brownouts that followed forced a sweltering summer on millions as the government urged consumers to shut off air conditioners to save juice. Power companies there have been scrambling to obtain conventional energy supplies, and have been a major factor in driving oil up from $75 to $100 since the fall. Cheap gas supplies from the US would meet this demand nicely.

The trigger. Last May, Cheniere got US government permission to export 2.2 billion cubic feet a day for 20 years. That would require it to convert the existing gasification plant to a liquifaction plant, something that can be done with some expensive re-engineering. It has already found several large international buyers to take delivery of the new end product. All that was missing was the money to finish the plant. My hedge fund buddies have been accumulating this stock since October, when it bottomed at $3, expecting an angel investor to appear. But it was one of those ?someday, it might happen? kind of stories better lead to long term players.

Then last week, Blackstone jumped in with a beefy $2 billion investment in Cheniere. That will enable them to obtain an additional $3 billion in debt financing needed to finish the first of two export facilities. They are now expected to come online in 2016.

How does Cheniere stack up as an investment? Frankly, it is kind of scary. The market cap is only $2 billion, and it pays no dividend. When the current spate of deals are done, it will have $5 billion in debt. The Stock has just run up from $3 to $17. And these facilities are dangerous to operate. One blew up in Texas in 1937 and killed 300 schoolchildren. As a result, local permits for these are very hard to come by.

But as you can see, a whole host of geopolitical, technology and economic strands tie together in this one company, all of which are positive for the share price. If the story comes true, as Blackstone hopes, then there could be a double or triple in the shares for the patient. To learn more about Cheniere Energy, please click here for their website at http://www.cheniere.com/default.shtml.





Did Somebody Light a Match?

The Long View on Emerging Markets

I managed to catch a few comments in the distinct northern accent of Jim O’Neil, the fabled analyst who invented the ‘BRIC’ term, and who has been kicked upstairs to the chairman’s seat at Goldman Sachs International (GS) in London.

Jim thinks that it is still the early days for the space, and that these countries have another ten years of high growth ahead of them. As I have been pushing emerging markets since the inception of this letter in 2008, this is music to my ears. By 2018 the combined GDP of the BRIC’s; Brazil (EWZ), Russia (RSX), India (PIN), and China (FXI), will match that of the US. China alone will reach two thirds of the American figure for gross domestic product. All that requires is for China to maintain a virile 8% annual growth rate for eight more years, while the US plods along at an arthritic 2% rate. China’s most recent quarterly growth rate came in at a blistering 8%.

?BRIC? almost became the ‘RIC’ when O’Neil was formulating his strategy a decade ago. Conservative Brazilian businessmen were convinced that the new elected Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva would wreck the country with his socialist ways. He ignored them and Brazil became the top performing market of the G-20 since 2000. An independent central bank that adopted a strategy of inflation targeting was transformative.

This is not to say that you should rush out and load up on emerging markets tomorrow. The entire asset class is still digesting its grim performance in 2011, which saw the average BRIC stock market fall 20%, and there may be some work to do here. American big cap stocks are the flavor of the day, and as long as this is the case, emerging markets will continue to blend in with the wall paper. Still, with growth rates triple or quadruple our own, they will not stay ?resting? for long.






Why Water Will Soon Become More Valuable Than Oil

If you think that the upcoming energy shortage is going to be bad, it will pale in comparison to the next water crisis. So investment in fresh water infrastructure is going to be a great recurring long term investment theme. One theory about the endless wars in the Middle East since 1918 is that they have really been over water rights.

Although Earth is often referred to as the water planet, only 2.5% is fresh, and three quarters of that is locked up in ice at the North and South poles. In places like China, with a quarter of the world’s population, up to 90% of the fresh water is already polluted, some irretrievably so. Some 18% of the world population lacks access to potable water, and demand is expected to rise by 40% in the next 20 years.

Aquifers in the US, which took nature millennia to create, are approaching exhaustion. While membrane osmosis technologies exist to convert seawater into fresh, they use ten times more energy than current treatment processes, a real problem if you don’t have any, and will easily double the end cost of water to consumers. While it may take 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef, it takes a staggering 2,416 gallons of water to do the same. Beef exports are really a way of shipping water abroad in concentrated form.

The UN says that $11 billion a year is needed for water infrastructure investment, and $15 billion of the 2008 US stimulus package was similarly spent. It says a lot that when I went to the University of California at Berkeley School of Engineering to research this piece, most of the experts in the field had already been retained by major hedge funds!

At the top of the shopping list to participate here should be the Claymore S&P Global Water Index ETF (CGW), which has appreciated by 14% since the October low. You can also visit the PowerShares Water Resource Portfolio (PHO), the First Trust ISE Water Index Fund (FIW), or the individual stocks Veolia Environment (VE), Tetra-Tech (TTEK), and Pentair (PNR). Who has the world’s greatest per capita water resources? Siberia, which could become a major exporter of H2O to China in the decades to come.








Who Expensive Oil Hurts the Most

Every time the price of oil spikes, we learn vast amounts of information about the global reach of this indispensable commodity. It’s like taking a non-core elective in geology at college. So I was fascinated when I found the chart of relative sector winners and losers below.

No surprise that energy does best from sky high crude prices. It is followed by telecommunications and health care. You would also expect consumer discretionary stocks to take it on the nose, as high energy prices almost always lead to a cyclical downturn in the economy. Who is the worst performer of all? Europe, which makes the recent weakness even more understandable.



Europe Will be the Biggest Loser from High Oil Prices

Buy Flood Insurance With the VIX

I am one of those cheapskates who buys Christmas ornaments by the bucket load from Costco in January for ten cents on the dollar because my eleven month return on capital comes close to 1,000%. I also like buying flood insurance in the middle of the summer when the forecast here in California is for endless days of sunshine. That is what we are facing now with the volatility index (VIX) where premiums have just broken under 20%, a six month low. The profits you can realize are spectacular.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) is a measure of the implied volatility of the S&P 500 stock index, which has been melting since the ?RISK OFF? trade peaked in early October. You may know of this from the talking heads, beginners, and newbies who call this the ?Fear Index?. Long term followers of my Trade Alert Service profited handsomely after I urged them to sell short this index with the heady altitude of 47%.

For those of you who have a PhD in higher mathematics from MIT, the (VIX) is simply a weighted blend of prices for a range of options on the S&P 500 index. The formula uses a kernel-smoothed estimator that takes as inputs the current market prices for all out-of-the-money calls and puts for the front month and second month expirations. The (VIX) is the square root of the par variance swap rate for a 30 day term initiated today. To get into the pricing of the individual options, please go look up your handy dandy and ever useful Black-Scholes equation. You will recall that this is the equation that derives from the Brownian motion of heat transference in metals. Got all that?

For the rest of you who do not possess a PhD in higher mathematics from MIT, and maybe scored a 450 on your math SAT test, or who don?t know what an SAT test is, this is what you need to know. When the market goes up, the (VIX) goes down. When the market goes down, the (VIX) goes up. End of story. Class dismissed.

The (VIX) is expressed in terms of the annualized movement in the S&P 500. So today?s (VIX) of $19 means that the market expects the index to move 5.5%, or 72 S&P 500 points, over the next 30 days. You get this by calculating $19/3.46 = 5.5%, where the square root of 12 months is 3.46. The volatility index doesn?t really care which way the stock index moves. If the S&P 500 moves more than the projected 5.5%, you make a profit on your long (VIX) positions.

Probability statistics suggest that there is a 68% chance (one standard deviation) that the next monthly market move will stay within the 5.5% range. I am going into this detail because I always get a million questions whenever I raise this subject with volatility deprived investors.

It gets better. Futures contracts began trading on the (VIX) in 2004, and options on the futures since 2006. Since then, these instruments have provided a vital means through which hedge funds control risk in their portfolios, thus providing the ?hedge? in hedge fund.

But wait, there?s more. Now, erase the blackboard and start all over. Why should you care? If you buy the (VIX) here at $19, you are picking up a derivative at a nice oversold level. Only prolonged, ?buy and hold? bull markets see volatility stay under $20 for any appreciable amount of time.

If you are a trader you can buy the (VIX) somewhere under $20 and expect an easy double sometime this year. If you are a long term investor, pick up some (VIX) for downside protection of your long term core holdings. A bet that euphoria doesn?t go on forever and that someday something bad will happen somewhere in the world seems like a good idea here.



Demographics as Destiny

If demographics is destiny, then America?s future looks bleak. I have long been a fan of demographic investing which creates opportunities for traders to execute on what I call ?intergenerational arbitrage?.? When the numbers of the middle aged are falling, risk markets plunge. Front run this data by two years, and you have a great predictor of stock market tops and bottoms that outperforms most investment industry strategists.

You can distill this even further by calculating the percentage of the population in the 45-49 age bracket. The reasons for this are quite simple. The last five years of child rearing are the most expensive. Think of all that pricey sports equipment, tutoring, braces, first cars, first car wrecks, and the higher insurance rates that go with it.

Older kids need more running room, which demands larger houses with more amenities. No wonder it seems that dad is writing a check or whipping out a credit card every five seconds. I know, because I have five kids of my own. As long as dad is in spending mode, stock and real estate prices rise handsomely.

As soon as kids flee the nest, this spending grinds to a juddering halt. Adults entering their fifties cut back spending dramatically and become prolific savers. Empty nesters also start downsizing their housing requirements, unwilling to pay for those empty bedrooms, which in effect, become expensive storage facilities. This is highly deflationary and causes a substantial slowdown in GDP growth.? That is why the stock and real estate markets began their slide in 2007, while it was off to the races for the Treasury bond market.

The data for the US is not looking so hot right now. Americans aged 45-49 peaked in 2009 at 23% of the population. According to US census data, this group then began a 13 year decline to only 19% by 2022. Using my two year ?front running? rule, the bear market in equities that started in 2007 will last all the way until 2020. This is a major reason why I am predicting a second ?lost decade? of sluggish 2% GDP growth for the US, and why our stock market could remain trapped in a broad range for much of this time.

You can take this strategy and apply it globally with terrific results. Not only do these spending patterns apply globally, they also back test with a high degree of accuracy. Simply determine when the 45-49 age bracket is peaking for every country and you can develop a highly reliable timetable for when and where to invest.

Instead of poring through gigabytes of government census data, my friends at HSBC Global Research, strategists Daniel Grosvenor and Gary Evans, have already done the work for you. They have developed a table ranking investable countries based on when the 34-54 age group peaks?a far larger set of parameters that captures generational changes. The numbers explain a lot of what is going on in the world today. I have reproduced it below. From it, I have drawn the following conclusions:

* The US (SPX) peaked in 2001 when our first ?lost decade? began.

*Japan (EWJ) peaked in 1990, heralding 20 years of falling asset prices, giving you a nice back test.

*Much of developed Europe, including Switzerland (EWL), the UK (EWU), and Germany (EWG), followed in the late 2,000?s and the current sovereign debt debacle started shortly thereafter.

*South Korea (EWY), an important G-20 ?emerged? market with the world?s lowest birth rate peaked in 2010.
*China (FXI) topped in 2011, explaining why we have seen three years of dreadful stock market performance despite torrid economic growth. It has been our consumers driving their GDP, not theirs.

*The ?PIIGS? countries of Portugal, Ireland (EIRL), Greece (GREK), and Spain (EWP) don?t peak until the end of this decade. That means you could see some ballistic stock market performances if the debt debacle is dealt with in the near future.

*The outlook for other emerging markets, like Russia (RSX), Indonesia (IDX), Poland (EPOL), Turkey (TUR), Brazil (EWZ), and India (PIN) is quite good, with spending by the middle age not peaking for 15-33 years.

*Which country will have the biggest demographic push for the next 38 years? Israel (EIS), which will not see consumer spending max out until 2050. Better start stocking up on things Israelis buy.

Like all models, this one is not perfect, as its predictions can get derailed by a number of extraneous factors. Rapidly lengthening life spans could redefine ?middle age?. Personally, I?m hoping 60 is the new 40. Immigration could starve some countries of young workers (like Japan), while adding them to others (like Australia). Foreign capital flows in a globalized world can accelerate or slow down demographic trends. The new ?RISK ON/RISK OFF? cycle can also have a clouding effect.

Still, it does present an intriguing framework for analyzing the international investment scene. In the meantime, I?m going to be checking out the shares of the matzo manufacturer down the street.