Camp Kotok Thoughts by Michael Drury, Chief Economist for McVean Trading & Investments, LLC

August 4th, 2017 – The annual gathering of creative thinkers on economics, finance and policy known as Camp Kotok was held over the past five days at Leen’s Lodge in Grand Lake Stream, ME. This event always coincides with the release of the August employment report – and there is often a clustering of attendees ready to comment at the data’s release on Friday morning. This year not so much. The same old, same old expectations and results from previous employment reports has dimmed the usual ardor about this market mover. The 209,000 increase in jobs was accepted as within the expected range as it put the three month average at 195,000. The decline in the unemployment rate back to 4.3% — and the ongoing failure of wage pressure to lift annual gains above 2.5% — drew barely a stir as market analysts have been arguing this conundrum for months. Bottom line, this traditionally most hyped of all monthly economic indicators did little to alter the widely ranging opinions of attendees.

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Camp Kotok, Here We Come!

Tomorrow I head for the backwoods of Maine and Camp Kotok – always one of the high points of my year. Most of my readers know by now that Camp Kotok is the annual fishing trip cum economics gab-fest hosted by David Kotok of Cumberland Advisors. It’s an invitation-only event that has been compared to Jackson Hole and even Davos – except that here you get to catch your own lunch.

David hatched the idea after surviving the attack on the World Trade Center, where he was attending a conference on the morning of 9/11. “We all had a conversation about how fragile life is and how good it is to go somewhere and talk about what’s on your mind in a quiet setting,” he says.

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Montana: The Last Best Place by Jill Fornito

In the lower part of Montana, about 50 miles south of Bozeman and hidden in the hills beyond several miles of unpaved roads, perched upon a hilltop near the thermal-pool-ynpGallatin National Forest, you’ll find Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge. An Orvis-endorsed and award-winning fishing lodge in the summer, a hunting lodge in the autumn and for the last week of August, a new venue for Camp Kotok: West.  This western edition of the renowned four-day economic and fishing retreat traditionally held in Maine is coordinated by David Kotok, longtime GIC board member and CIO of Cumberland Advisors.  Over two dozen economists, financial analysts, market researchers, and business journalists, many of whom are members, speakers and supporters of GIC, descended upon this remote ranch from regions throughout North America, with one guest traveling from as far as Argentina.

Our group of 30 filled the lodge to its capacity, which included several single guest rooms in the main building overlooking the lake and a few freestanding cabins studded around the perimeter, all of which had a stunning view of Paradise Valley below. Nancy Schaefer, Mr. Hubbard’s daughter and lodge proprietor, spent several years with the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and her experience in the hospitality industry is evident. Hubbard’s shone in every aspect of our accommodations with niceties such as complimentary L’Occitane lip balm, the always-available fresh baked cookies (and the occasional can of bear spray, as needed). Breakfast was a beautiful buffet with freshly baked pastries and a made-to-order omelet and pancake station. Lunches were served on the deck or packed with care and served picnic style, depending on the day’s activity.  Each night, the dinners impressed with menu features that included beef wellington, a full scale you-call-it pasta bar and an extravagant cookout with barbeque chicken and ribs. And the indulgent array of desserts did not disappoint (I’m looking at you, warm buttercake topped with homemade ice cream).

nat-geo-photographer-bearsThe week’s itinerary was comprised of the angler’s choice of fishing, wading the creeks and streams inside Yellowstone National Park, fishing from a boat on the serene 85-acre Merrill Lake on Hubbard’s property, horseback riding (either for leisure or to herd cattle on this working ranch), shooting various firearms at clay targets, guided tours of Yellowstone or spending some downtime at the spa.  There were also two evening bear-seeking expeditions (which were in no way sanctioned by the lodge, but rather the conception of a handful of fearless, thrill-seeking guests who piled into rental cars to drive deep into the hills in an attempt to spot one or two of the nineteen (19) grizzly bears currently roaming the area (which we did – and lived to tell about it!).

It should be noted that the fishing offered by Hubbard’s is not the canoe fishing that I wrote about last summer at Camp Kotok in Downeast Maine.  This is strictly fly-fishing; an activity in which I had no experience or knowledge. But, Chris, my knowledgeable and supremely patient guide, who drove us into the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park in his Montana-sized pickup, changed that. Chris is a native to Montana, who recently returned home after spending 13 years in New York as a photographer. He made sure that I learned and applied the proper casting and reeling techniques allowing me to land one adorable little brook trout. So what if I ended up drawing blood on a downed tree trunk while traversing the backcountry terrain? I successfully fly-fished for the first time in the majestic Yellowstone National Park amidst grazing bison and soaring eagles.  I was

Our Yellowstone Tour was led by Matt, a local guide, born and bred in the Montana countryside. It was an exciting time to visit the park as it was the celebration of the 100 Year Anniversary of the National Park Service. Matt took four of us on a fascinating and educational journey around the entire 147 mile loop of the park, half of which was actually navigating above an underground supervolcano, known as the caldera, that spans 30×45 miles in size. Its first eruption was about 2 million years ago, but its last eruption was about 174,000 years ago, a bit too recent, if you ask me.  The hydrothermal features of the park are reminders that there is significant heat below the surface. Not to worry; the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory has scientists continually monitoring its activity so we should be good for about 10,000 years or so.  We also watched the Old Faithful geyser shoot 90 feet into the sky, visited the beautifully restored Lake Yellowstone Lodge, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, as well as several glowing prismatic pools and hot springs, cascading waterfalls and endless mountain vistas.  It was a full day of falling in love with one of America’s natural treasures.

On the day of departure, I awoke at dawn to find a dozen of the ranch’s horses grazing in front of the cabin. I paused to enjoy this dreamlike state, where for a moment, I seemed to exist inside of a poster for the “Big Sky Country” board of tourism.  Now, I am a city dweller to the core and often joke about my love of “not camping,” but through GIC’s programs in the Jackson Hole area over the last five years, I have continued to find magic in Wyoming and now I can say the same about Montana.


Read more of Jill’s blogs at the Global Interdependence Center website.

Jill Fornito

A little about Jill… Jill Fornito joined the Global Interdependence Center in 2008 as the assistant director with a broad scope of responsibilities including organizational and program management. In 2011, Jill assumed the role of director of operations, focusing mainly on the planning and execution of GIC’s domestic and international conferences. Jill was named the executive director in 2017 as she continues to oversee the daily operations of the GIC office, including development, financial administration, program coordination and communications. She is also the author of GIC’s Travel Blog.

Camp Kotok Interview Series

Ross Ashcroft speaks to attendees at Camp Kotok in a series of video interviews.

They discuss the origins and purpose of Camp Kotok, the global economy, the Fed and US private debt levels, and much more.

View the playlist here on YouTube:

The “Maine” Event by Jill Fornito

About two hours north of Bangor, Maine, and 20 miles south of the Canadian boarder is the teeny tiny town of Grand Lake Stream, where every summer, longtime GIC Board Member David Kotok hosts his annual fishing retreat. Affectionately named “Camp Kotok,” this exclusive event brings together a mix of economists, analysts and strategists for four days of recreation in the cellular signal-free setting at Leen’s Lodge. Given that so many of the Camp Kotok attendees have served as GIC speakers, board members and sponsors, this could easily be described as a GIC conference disguised as a fishing trip. I was fortunate enough to have been invited to participate for a second year in a row.

Grand Lake Stream is remote, and Leen’s Lodge is isolated. You have two options in Float Plane on water
getting there: the easy and scenic drive from Bangor International Airport or the 30 minute float plane ride from Bangor to Leen’s private dock. Last year, I rented a car and took the drive, stopping first for lunch just outside of Bangor in Brewer at the charming Eagle’s Nest, a little hidden gem that sits on the Penobscot River serving up big beautiful lobster rolls to the lucky few who know of its existence. Continuing on, after an 85 mile stretch (complete with requisite roadside ice cream stand) and after the Passamaquoddy Indian Reservation, you’re almost there. The sign for Leen’s Lodge directs you two miles down a dirt road, the official demarcation sign of having arrived in God’s Country. This year, I chose the float plane, which operates 25 minutes from BGR by Katahdin Air. Soaring only 3,000 feet above the wilderness in a four-person sea-aircraft, I asked our pilot and the owner of the business, Jim Strang, how long he’d been flying. “Oh, since about 6 o’clock this morning,” he quipped. To the East, in the distance we can see as far as Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park and below we spot a single moose trekking along the tree line. After landing smoothly on the surface of the majestic West Grand Lake, moments later we arrived at Leen’s private dock, just steps away from the dining lodge.

Lunchtime Libations

Lunchtime Libations

Family-run since 1958 and owned by the warm-hearted outdoorsman Charles Driza since 2001, Leen’s offers a variety of cabins ranging from one to eight bedrooms, many of which have fireplaces and decks overlooking the lake. Our group of 65 convenes in the dining lodge for breakfast and dinner and it’s the only spot within miles that you’ll connect to WiFi. Breakfast is served from 7 a.m., where the bright-eyed dining staff members are eager to get your order, feed you and pair you up with your fishing partner and to your guide, who’s ready to take you out onto the lake. Lunch is prepared lakeside which often features the perch, bass and pickerel that was just caught that morning (by you). Dinnertime menus rotate nightly including local game and the standard, Maine lobster, always followed by a fresh baked dessert while the sun sets stunningly off the deck. After which, you may find yourself in a poker game, in a sing-a-long with Randy Spencer (author/musician and fulltime fishing guide) and his band, or knee-deep in a lively debate that has a good chance of rolling well into the night. All activities pair nicely with a glass of fine wine, all of which is shipped in advance by the participants.

Grand Lakers

Grand Lakers

My fishing guide both years has been local resident, Brett Vose. Brett, 25, has been guiding since 2008 and was the second youngest guide ever to earn the Grand Lake Stream hunting and fishing guides’ license. Brett sits on the board of the Grand Lake Stream Guide Association and earns a living by guiding his fishing excursions from his beautiful hunter green 20’ Grand Lake Canoe that he built by hand with his grandfather (complete with built-in cup holders!). In the winter, he guides bear hunts. These professional guides are dedicated to providing a safe and enjoyable outdoor experience for their clients. Brett shared with me a glimpse of what life is like in his town, where the population is bordering on 100 residents and the closest supermarket an hour away. He attests to the town’s seclusion, joking that the only spot to get a cell phone signal is a mile from his home and that the nearest Wendy’s is back in Bangor. One of Brett’s fondest memories was having guided for a client who worked as a rocket scientist on Apollo 11 and who, at 93 years old, plans to return next year. Brett worked patiently as my guide ensuring that I had a memorable experience, one in which I caught my share of fish, enjoyed nature tour in search of “swamp donkeys” (moose) and even caught an afternoon snooze in the warmth of the sun as we skimmed the lake back to shore.

The time spent at Leen’s Lodge is a gift. And lucky are those who have been able to receive it.

The Author and GIC Member and Sponsor Barry Nobel enjoying a morning lakeside discussion.

Jill Fornito

Read more of Jill’s blogs at the Global Interdependence Center website.

A little about Jill… Jill Fornito joined the Global Interdependence Center in 2008 as the assistant director with a broad scope of responsibilities including organizational and program management. In 2011, Jill assumed the role of director of operations, focusing mainly on the planning and execution of GIC’s domestic and international conferences. Jill was named the executive director in 2017 as she continues to oversee the daily operations of the GIC office, including development, financial administration, program coordination and communications. She is also the author of GIC’s Travel Blog.