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Power Sheet – March 9, 2016

Wise leaders seek out voices they don’t agree with and news they don’t like. Right now, as always, such voices and news are out there if we look. When the good times were rolling in 2006 and 2007, few people wanted to hear the warnings of fund manager Jeremy Grantham or New York University professor Nouriel Roubini (known then as Dr. Doom) or Yale professor Robert Shiller. But they were right about the coming bust, and their unpopular views deserved a hearing because all three had proven themselves over many years to be sharp judges of economies and markets. Here are four such voices now, responsible experts whose views we should hear, like them or not:

Jim Rogers says the probability of a U.S. recession in the coming 12 months is 100%. He’s best known for calling – and betting on – the booms in commodities and emerging markets 20 years ago; he has also been a partner of George Soros. Now he argues that the wheels are coming off the U.S. economy – he cites flat payroll tax numbers – despite its fairly steady but slow growth, as the current expansion nears seven years in length. Weak or slowing economies in China, Japan, and Europe increase the downward pressure, he told Bloomberg. You think the dollar is strong now? He’s long dollars because he foresees a flight to safety as markets weaken globally.

-Similarly bearish for other reasons is the Bond King, Bill Gross. The problem, he says in his latest outlook letter, is that central bankers’ desperate attempts to stimulate their economies have gone too far by imposing negative interest rates. While low rates generally pump up asset values and energize economic activity through the wealth effect, he argues that negative rates do more damage than good. They clobber banks’ business models, endanger pension funds, and harm “all savers; households worldwide that saved/invested money for college, retirement or for medical bills.” He doesn’t offer hope: “Central bankers seem ever intent on going lower, ignorant in my view of the harm being done to a classical economic model that has driven prosperity – until it reached a negative interest rate dead end and could drive no more.”

-Yale’s insightful Vikram Mansharamani sees “bubbles bursting everywhere” and does not see the trend stopping. The author of an excellent book called Boombustology, he keeps an eye on these things. At the Global Financial Markets Forum in Abu Dhabi, he told CNBC he sees “a bubble bursting, I would argue, in Australian housing markets — that is beginning to crack; South Africa — the whole economy; Canada — housing and the economy; Brazil. We can keep going on and on.” The bubbles were inflated by the super-easy monetary policies that trouble Gross, and the bubbles’ bursting is contributing to deflation worldwide. Not a promising scenario for economic growth.

-Stock market maven Mark Hulbert reminded us in a commentary yesterday that Monday was the seventh anniversary of the current bull market’s start. His simple point: “There’s no way the stock market over the next seven years will produce a return anywhere as good as the last seven.” His more sobering point is that U.S. stocks will have a hard time even outpacing the growth of the economy. Corporate profits are already unusually high, and multiples are well above average; neither measure is likely to increase much further. His argument is hard to refute.

I think of these four observers and others like them as responsible realists. We can’t know how right or wrong they are, but experience says we had better think about what we’ll do if they’re right.

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What We’re Reading Today

Hedge Funds seek control of United Continental’s board

A few days before CEO Oscar Munoz is due back to work after a heart transplant, PAR Capital Management and Altimeter Capital Management are seeking six board seats and want to install former Continental CEO Gordon Bethune as chairman. Current chairman Henry Meyer spoke with the fund managers before their nominations, but talks broke down over the inclusion of Bethune. The fund managers argue that the company has fallen too far behind competitors. The control battle unfolds only six months after CEO Jeff Smisek resigned in connection with a corruption investigation. WSJ

Facebook wants NFL games 

Mark Zuckerberg‘s company is interested in buying streaming rights to Thursday Night Football and would pay celebrities to promote the games on Facebook. The move could begin a seismic shift for the company, moving it from a platform for brands to a content provider, potentially revolutionizing the way we watch TV. Wired

Trying to define Twitter

With speeches, makeshift pep rallies, and reorganizations, CEO Jack Dorsey is trying to define what Twitter is and does. But he still hasn’t explained it persuasively to investors and advertisers. Investors and former employees say Dorsey can do it — if  it can be done. Missteps under previous management, including former CEO Dick Costolo, at least raise doubts. Fortune

Iran test-fires two missiles

One of the ballistic missiles had the phrase “Israel should be wiped off the Earth” written on it. Iran’s news agency says the launches were a deterrent to show Iran’s power to thwart an enemy. Vice President Joseph Biden was in Israel at the time of the test and said that if Iran breaks the terms of the nuclear deal, the U.S. and world powers will act. USA Today

Building a Better Leader

You don’t have to be friends to work with someone

The creators of the show Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, say they aren’t friends, but each respects what the other does. Business Insider

In order to be more productive instead of just busy…

…focus on the priorities that are most important to your job or your life. To do so, you may need to adjust the way you make decisions.  Fortune

When you promote star performers to managers…

…set them up to succeed by first teaching them how to lead others. Thought Leaders

Primaries Unfold

Sanders stuns Clinton in Michigan 

Bernie Sanders won Michigan with 50% of the vote, giving him his first win in a large, diverse state. His record of opposing trade deals that he dubbed “disastrous” to jobs and communities helped him attract support. The win revives a campaign that had shown signs of failing. As the two contenders move to Ohio, North Carolina, and Illinois, he’ll likely continue to emphasize the trade issue as a way to connect with primary voters. Hillary Clinton won Mississippi’s primary handily. Washington Post

Trump tries a new tactic during victory speech

Donald Trump had another big night, winning three of the four Republican races (losing to Ted Cruz in Idaho). After wins in Michigan, Hawaii, and Mississippi, he took a different tack during his victory speech. He spoke about how he would beat Clinton, act more presidential if he won the election, and could even get along with Mitt Romney. He also, of course, tried to sell steaks and wine. Fortune

Marco Rubio nearing the end?

After another winless primary night, Rubio has to fight whispers that he’s about to leave the race. He’s speaking to fewer people at his rallies and didn’t manage double-digit numbers in Mississippi or Michigan. Meanwhile, Ted Cruz won Idaho and looks to be the one GOP candidate who could potentially defeat Trump. Politico

Up or Out

Yum Brands named Bob Walter the successor to David Novak as chairman, effective in May.  WSJ

Fortune Reads and Videos

ACLU: FBI could bypass iPhone security

Security experts say it may be true but would be risky if you want to keep the information.  Fortune

FX CEO John Landgraf explains why he hates Silicon Valley’s…

…unbridled power. Fortune

France’s soccer federation raided…

…as Swiss authorities seize documents related to its investigation into former FIFA President Sepp Blatter. Fortune

Goldman Sachs buys Snapchat ads…

…to promote International Women’s Day. It’s the company’s second large ad buy on Snapchat. Fortune

Quote of the Day

It has been enormously advantageous for Netflix to not release that data. I respect what they have built. If I were them, I’d do the same thing. But as their competitor, my job is to call baloney. If you think Netflix doesn’t release ratings because it wants to create a better creative environment for its employees, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.” — FX CEO John Landgraf discussing Netflix’s strategy of not releasing audience numbers.  Fortune

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Produced by Ryan Derousseau