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The Deflation/Inflation Debate

“Naïve inflationism demands an increase in the quantity of money without suspecting that this will diminish the purchasing power of the money.” ― Ludwig von mises,  The Theory of Money and Credit

It is hardly surprising that with equity indices stalling, the financial community is increasingly worried that the long, steady bull market is coming to an end. Naturally, this makes investors look for reasons to worry, and it turns out that there are indeed many things to worry about.

In fact, there are always things to worry about. Ever since the Lehman crisis, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have been casting long shadows across the financial stage. But as financial assets have continued to rise in value over the last nine years, bearish fund managers, spooked by systemic risks of one sort or another and the perennial threat of a renewed slump, have been forced to discard their ursine views.

As often as not, it is not much more than a question of emphasis. There is always good news and bad news. As an investor, you semi-consciously choose what to believe.

There are causes for concern, of that there is no doubt. Mostly, they arise from the consequences of earlier state interventions on the money side. Governments are slowly strangling private sector production with increasingly rapacious demands on taxpayers and have been resorting to the printing press to finance the shortfalls. In reality, there is a finite limit to government spending, because it impoverishes the tax base. Yet governments, with very few exceptions, seek to conceal this truism by increasing spending and budget deficits even more. In this, President Trump is not alone.

Bankruptcy is the end result. And don’t believe the old saw about how governments can’t go bust. They can, and they do by destroying their currencies, as von Mises implied in the quote above.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Opinion Nearly Unanimous: Inflation Has Arrived

Opinion is nearly unanimous. Inflation is coming and it won’t be short-lived.

Inflation proponents are coming out of the woodwork. Here are some examples.

Inflation is Building

DiMartino: Inflation Is Building And The Fed Will React. “Former Fed insider Danielle DiMartino knows the Fed will be out of bullets at the next recession. Even so, its Chairman Jay Powell is now desperately trying to create as much runway as possible.”

Inflation is Back, Say a Prayer


Inflation is back: 25% of firms reported to the NFIB that they plan to raise prices, a ten-year high…say a prayer for Jay Powell


50-50 Odds Core Inflation Hits Three Percent

The core CPI was as expected at +0.2%, but the YoY trend did jump to 2.1% from 1.8% in Feb. There is going to be a price to be paid for last year’s string of wireless-induced 0.1% prints which are falling out of the YoY math. I see 50-50 odds of 3% core inflation by year-end.


…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Krugman Dismisses That an Increase in Money Supply Causes Inflation

In the New York Times article on March 27, 2018 – Immaculate inflation strikes again – Paul Krugman argues that those economists who are of the opinion that the key factor that causes inflation is increases in money supply are very wrong. According to Krugman, the key factor that sets in motion inflation is unemployment. Whilst a decline in the unemployment rate is associated with a strengthening in the rate of inflation an increase in the unemployment rate is associated with a decline in the rate of inflation.

Note that for Krugman inflation is about general increases in the prices of goods and services, which we suggest is a flawed definition. To ascertain what inflation is all about we have to establish how this phenomenon emerged. We have to trace it back to its historical origin.

The essence of inflation

The subject matter of inflation is an act of embezzlement. Historically inflation originated when a country’s ruler such as king would force his citizens to give him all their gold coins under the pretext that a new gold coin was going to replace the old one. In the process, the king would falsify the content of the gold coins by mixing it with some other metal and return diluted gold coins to the citizens.

On this Rothbard wrote,

More characteristically, the mint melted and recoined all the coins of the realm, giving the subjects back the same number of “pounds” or “marks”, but of a lighter weight. The leftover ounces of gold or silver were pocketed by the King and used to pay his expenses.[1]

On account of the dilution of the gold coins, the ruler could now mint a greater amount of coins and pocket for his own use the extra coins minted. What was now passing as a pure gold coin was in fact a diluted gold coin.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Economists Who Push Inflation Stunned That Rising Home Prices Put Buyers Deeper Into Debt

Once again, when the government intervenes – this time in housing – the left hand is starting a fire that the right hand is trying to put out.Rising prices for homes are once again pricing out prime borrowers and nobody can “figure out” why this is happening.

It is news like this article reported this morning by the Wall Street Journal that continues to perpetuate the hilarious notion of Keynesian economics as giving a job to one man digging a hole and another job to another man filling it, simply so that they both have jobs.

There is nothing funnier (or sadder) than “economists” struggling to understand how housing prices got so high and why people are taking on more debt in order to purchase them. However, that is the great mystery that the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday morning, making note of the fact that people are “stretching“ in order to purchase homes. What’s the solution to this problem? How about just easing lending standards again? After all, what could go wrong?

Apparently blind to the obvious – that forced inflation could amazingly make things more expensive relative to income – “economists” have hilariously blamed this price/debt delta on lack of supply. Of course, no one has mentioned the credit worthiness of borrowers getting worse or the fact that homes prices are being manipulated in order to offer home ownership to people who otherwise may not be in the market.

More Americans are stretching to buy homes, the latest sign that rising prices are making homeownership more difficult for a broad swath of potential buyers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

BofA’s Striking Admission: Markets Will Soon Begin To Panic About Debt Sustainability

In the latest BofA survey of European fixed income investors (both IG and high yiled), the bank’s credit analyst Barnaby Martin writes that “after fretting about inflation at the start of the year, April’s credit survey shows that the biggest concern has reverted back to “Quantitative Failure”, driven by the recent data slowdown.”

Indeed, as the chart below shows, whereas the evolution of “biggest risks” for Euro investors indicated that strong growth at the start of the year provoked worries over rising inflation, “the recent data moderation has meant that these concerns have quickly given way to worries about a lack of inflation – and thus “Quantitative Failure”.”  And yes, it took just three months for the market to make a 180 and worry not about inflation, but deflation, and a Fed that may be pursuing too many rate hikes into 2018. As Martin notes, “the speed at which inflation concerns have flipped highlights the slim margin of error for a “goldilocks” economic backdrop in ’18.”

In retrospect, however, the sudden reversal is probably not that much of a surprise: as we showed this morning, according to the Citi G-10 Eco Surprise index, after hitting the highest level since the financial crisis, economic surprises promptly tumbled into the red just three months later, confirming how tenuous and fleeting the so-called “global coordinated economic recovery” had been all along.

And yet this sudden reversal puts the Fed and central banks in a major quandary. Recall that in a world with over $200 trillion in debt, amounting to well over 300% of Global GDP, the only saving grace is for the debt to get inflated as the alternative is default, either sovereign or private.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Case For a Gold Currency Part 2: Wages and Growth: Higher Under Classical Gold Standard

When the world was on the gold standard, the fastest rate of economic growth happened between 1870 and 1914, when the gold standard was suspended in Europe because of WWI. Not only that, but blue collared workers then saw vast increases in their purchasing power. Had we stayed on the classical gold standard, wages would be higher and the middle class would continue to grow.

For example, in 1915, Henry Ford paid his workers $5 per day. At that time the price of gold was set at $20.67/oz. This means that in terms of gold (which was a legitimate form of payment and was easily redeemable into paper money) a blue collared factory worker was paid 0.242 oz. of gold per day. Assuming a 5-day work week and 40 weeks of work in a year, Ford workers could be paid 48 oz. of gold per year. Today the price of gold is $1200/oz; this means the Ford workers were paid $57,600/year in today’s money. This is significantly higher than what manufacturing jobs pay today.

Similarly, in 1965, the minimum wage was $1.25/hr (5 silver dimes) and under the Bretton Woods Agreement, silver was $1.25 per ounce. Today silver is $15/oz and hence workers would have had a purchasing power of $15/hour in today’s money.

Inflation

This implies that it is government control over a nation’s monetary system, which has allowed the middle class’s income to be eroded by inflation. While the CPI may show us that central banks have kept inflation under control, once we use precious metals as a measurement, the cost of goods and services have gone up much higher than what current inflation would suggest.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Who Needs Wall Street When You Can Have A Monetary Unicorn?

Who Needs Wall Street When You Can Have A Monetary Unicorn?

The single most important price in all of capitalism is the interest rate—-and at all points on the maturity curve. And the single most important truth about honest interest rates is that they must be discovered by markets, not imposed by the state.

We got to ruminating about those core propositions when we read that San Francisco Fed head, John Williams, may be headed toward the true #2 job at the Fed. That is, President of the New York Fed—-the joint that actually runs the casinos domiciled in the canyons of Wall Street.

We did not burst out laughing exactly, but nearly so. After all, why do you even need Wall Street if you are going to have John Williams running the joint?

Recall that Dr. Williams claims to see a financial apparition that no one has ever touched, measured, photographed, X-rayed or otherwise proven the existence of. We are referring, of course, to the “Neutral Rate of Interest”.

By contrast, Dr. Williams is certain that he has spotted it, measured it and completely understood it. Indeed, he is so certain that in recent times it has been extraordinarily low, that he wants to run the entire $19.7 trillion US economy on the basis of it.

That is, peg actual interest rates in the money market based on a theoretical rate that might as well be the equivalent of a Monetary Unicorn. That’s because no one on the bond and bill trading desks of Wall Street has ever seen it, or ever will.

Not only that, but Dr. Williams now suggests that we actually need even more inflation than the sacred 2.00% target to cure whatever ails the US economy, and that his Monetary Unicorn told him so. Thus, as per the AM’s Wall Street Journal:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess

Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.

—Ernest Hemingway

Military spending is the second largest item in the US federal budget after Social Security. It has a habit of increasing significantly each year, and the proposed 2019 defense budget is $886 billion (roughly double what it was in 2003).

US military spending exceeds the total of the next ten largest countries combined. Although the US government acknowledges 682 military bases in 63 countries, that number may be over 1,000 (if all military installations are included), in 156 countries. Total military personnel is estimated at over 1.4 million.

The reader could be forgiven if he felt that a US military base was rather unnecessary in, say, Djibouti or the Bahamas, yet the US Congress will not allow the closure of any military bases. (The Bi-partisan Budget Act of 2013 blocked future military base closings under the argument that they’re all essential for “national security.”) And Congress has a vested interest in keeping all bases open and consuming as much in tax dollars as possible (more on that later).

Of course, those bases need to be kept well-stocked with small arms, tanks, missiles and aircraft. Yet, in spite of the admittedly incredible number of US military bases across the globe, the additional stockpile of weaponry is so great that the government has difficulty finding places to put it all.

One storage location is pictured in the photo above—Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. In spite of the size of the photo, it shows only a portion of the aircraft located there. (And bear in mind, such aircraft often cost over $100 million each.)

If asked, the military states that, although these aircraft are in dead storage and many have never seen any use whatever, they might possibly be called up for service, “if needed.” Of course, if they’re needed, they’re unlikely to be of use if located in Arizona. And, in addition, they may not be useful for warfare, as war technology has moved on since the days when such aircraft designs were suitable.

It’s been said that generals are forever fighting the last war, and this is certainly true. Even a layman can observe that such conventional aircraft will never see use, as they serve no purpose in modern warfare.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

High Debt Levels Rant

HIGH DEBT LEVELS RANT

I am going to break from regular market commentary to step back and think about the big picture as it relates to debt and inflation. Let’s call it philosophical Friday. But don’t worry, there will be no bearded left-wing rants. This will definitely be a market-based exploration of the bigger forces that affect our economy.

One of the greatest debates within the financial community centres around debt and its effect on inflation and economic prosperity. The common narrative is that government deficits (and the ensuing debt) are bad. It steals from future generations and merely brings forward future consumption. In the long run, it creates distortions, and the quicker we return to balancing our books, the better off we will all be.

I will not bother arguing about this logic. Chances are you have your own views about how important it is to balance the books, and no matter my argument, you won’t change your opinion. I will say this though. I am no disciple of the Krugman “any stimulus is good stimulus” logic.

The broken window fallacy is real and digging ditches to fill them back in is a net drain on the economy. Full stop. You won’t hear any complaints from me there.

Yet, the obsession with balancing the government’s budget is equally damaging. In a balance sheet challenged economy the government is often the last resort for creating demand. Trying to balance a government deficit in this environment (like the Troika imposed on Greece during the recent Euro-crisis) is a disaster waiting to happen.

Have a look at these charts from the NY Times outlining the similarity of the Greece depression to the American Great Depression of the 1930s.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

 

Freight Costs and Volumes Surge, Inflation Fears Heat Up

Freight Costs and Volumes Surge, Inflation Fears Heat Up

February was off the chart.

“We are seeing an unprecedented rise in logistics costs,” General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening told the Wall Street Journal after the company reported earnings. Shares dropped 9% on Wednesday and another 2% on Thursday. They’re down nearly 40% from their peak in July 2016.

The Maker of cereals, Yoplait, and other packaged food brands said that freight costs have surged to near 20-year highs in February. Other packaged food and snack makers, including Campbell, Hershey, Mondelez International (Oreos, Newtons, Premium and Ritz crackers), Sysco, Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods and others have all warned about rising transportation costs. And they said they’d try to pass these transportation cost increases on to their customers.

And this is what has been happening in the transportation sector in the US: Shipment volumes by all modes of transportation combined — truck, rail, air freight, and barge — surged 11.4% year-over-year in February according to the Cass Freight Index. The index, which is not seasonally adjusted, hit its highest level for any February since 2006:

February is in the slow part of the year, and yet it was nearly on par with June 2014, at the seasonal peak, and the peak month since the Financial Crisis!

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Venezuela’s Inflation Surges to A New High: 8321%

After Venezuela ditched its multiple exchange-rate system and announced that it would introduce a new cryptocurrency (read: the petro), the hapless bolivar staged a bit of a rally. Many people concluded that the rally was the result of these two policy changes. While that conclusion might hold some water, it isn’t much.

The bolivar’s demand and supply fundamentals point to the source of the bolivar’s recent temporary strength. It’s tax season in Venezuela, and people pay taxes in bolivars. So, there has been a seasonal increase in the demand for bolivars. Instead of selling their ever-depreciating bolivars into the black market, many bolivars have been sent to the tax collector. With the tax season ending in March, the temporary surge in the bolivar demand has petered out. Not surprisingly, the bolivar is plunging again.

The Grim Reaper has taken his scythe to the Venezuelan bolivar. The death of the bolivar is depicted in the following chart. On the black market (read: free market), a bolivar is worthless, and with its collapse, Venezuela is witnessing today the world’s worst inflation.


As the bolivar collapsed and inflation accelerated, the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) became an unreliable source of inflation data. However, from December 2014 until January 2016, the BCV did not report inflation statistics. Then, the BCV pulled a rabbit out of its hat in January 2016 and reported a phony annual inflation rate for the third quarter of 2015. Nonetheless, the last official inflation data reported by the BCV is still almost two years old. To remedy this problem, the Johns Hopkins – Cato Institute Troubled Currencies Project, which I direct, began to measure Venezuela’s inflation in 2013. We measure the monthly and annual inflation rates on a daily basis. We measure. We do not forecast.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Loonie Spikes As Canadian Consumer Prices Surge

Oh, Canada… growth is stagnating, housing bubbles imploding, and now inflation is surging

Canadian Consumer prices surge 2.2% YoY (well above expectations of +1.9% and January’s +1.7% YoY)

Core prices – which exclude more volatile items like energy and are considered a gauge of inflation pressures – inched higher for a fifth month to 2.03 percent, which is the fastest since 2012.

Statistics Canada cited higher prices for gasoline, cars, and mortgage interest costs as main contributors to annual inflation. The minimum wage increases in Ontario also seem to have had an impact, with food purchased from restaurants pushing up nationwide prices by 4 percent from a year ago.

Faster-than-expected inflation could add pressure on the Bank of Canada – which has kept the expansion going with low interest rates – to keep hiking borrowing costs to more normal levels.

And the Loonie is surging…

 

The Way to Survive Hyperinflation

COMMENT: Mr. Armstrong; I just wanted to comment that I am from Venezuela. My father came here to visit me in Florida where I live with a Green Card. Everything he saved in life for his retirement is now worthless and it does not even pay to travel back to collect his pension. The hyperinflation is a collapse in the confidence of government as you have explained. Those who saved for their retirement and had pensions, lose everything. They will be paid the amount that they were promised, but it will not even buy a single night’s dinner and soon a beer.

Thank you for your contribution to society. I wish more people would listen to you. Experience is the root of knowledge. Opinion is the root of bias. You have proven that

JE

REPLY: To survive hyperinflation requires the holding of tangible assets and never cash or pensions. The way pensions can be devalued is through inflation over the course of time and circumstance. What I paid into Social Security will never come back to me in terms of real purchasing power and that is without hyperinflation. I have stated before, I met with the Treasury back during the Reagan Administration and said these insane levels of interest rates will triple the national debt in less than 10 years. They simply responded; Yes but we will be paying back with cheaper dollars.

All promises of government are simply eroded with inflation. That is why Southern Europe fell into such chaos. The currency doubled instead of declining when they joined the Euro. That is why Europe has been a failure under this political-economic philosophy. The Euro first crashed, and then doubled in value. Southern Europe was used to inflation always reducing their debts. Suddenly, their debts doubled and deflation ruled. And people cannot figure out why the Euro is in such trouble?

I do like your saying though. It is spot on.

 

Repetitive Patterns in the Money Supply – Will Coins Become Extinct?

Inflation over time raises the cost of raw metal and we see that such coins vanish from the money supply. Britain is the latest in line to eliminate the 1 & 2 pence coins. They are costing more to produce than they are worth. I have written about the monetary reform Act of 1857 when the penny was drastically reduced in size. Canada eliminated the penny as well.

The United States dropped copper from the penny in 1982. Today, the penny is made of 97.5% zinc. It is copper-plated to give the appearance that it is still really copper. Throughout history, the supply of copper, gold, and silver, have all risen and fallen at different times based on their own cycle. Where the Persians had excess gold, the Greeks only had silver mines. The Romans had neither silver nor gold and began their monetary system with bronze.

We can see how the three empires began with gold, then silver, and finally bronze and modern society turned to paper starting with the Chinese during the 13th century. The main coin of the Persians was known as the gold Daric, whereas the dominant coinage among the Greeks was the silver Athens tetradrachm known as the Owl. The Romans were the last to depart from the Bronze Age. Their coinage remained bronze until silver was introduced and struck in Greek denominations beginning in 280BC, which was just one 51.6-year wave from Alexander the Great (336-323BC).

As-Decline (1)

We can see the same process of the rising cost of copper that prevailed during the early Roman Republic. The Roman As drops from 280BC with a weight of 341 grams to 10.6 grams by the time of Augustus (27BC-14AD). The drastic decline was been 280BC and 115BC, which was about 19 waves of 8.6-years.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Venezuela’s Inflation Surges to A New High: 7459%

After backing off over the past month and a half, Venezuela’s hyperinflation is surging again, making a new high of 7459% yr/yr.

The Grim Reaper has taken his scythe to the Venezuelan bolivar. The death of the bolivar is depicted in the following chart. On the black market (read: free market), a bolivar is worthless, and with its collapse, Venezuela is witnessing today the world’s worst inflation.

On January 29th, Venezuela announced that one of its two official exchange rates was being eliminated. So, now the bolivar “trades” at one rate, under new auction rules. The official rate is now B/USD = 24,968, for those lucky enough to obtain it. But, following the elimination of Venezuela’s official multiple exchange-rate system on January 29th and Maduro’s announcement that the Petro raised $735 million on its ICO in late February (02/20/2018), the hapless bolivar staged something of a rally. In consequence, the currency has come off its lows and Venezuela’s hyperinflation has come off its highs.

Some have applauded Maduro’s recent moves, claiming that they will stabilize the bolivar and eliminate inflation. This, of course, is nothing more than a pipe dream. While the bolivar has strengthened a bit and inflation has temporarily abated and stabilized, the bolivar bounce is nothing more than a classic dead cat bounce.


As the bolivar collapsed and inflation accelerated, the Banco Central de Venezuela (BCV) became an unreliable source of inflation data. However, from December 2014 until January 2016, the BCV did not report inflation statistics. Then, the BCV pulled a rabbit out of its hat in January 2016 and reported a phony annual inflation rate for the third quarter of 2015. Nonetheless, the last official inflation data reported by the BCV is still almost two years old. To remedy this problem, the Johns Hopkins – Cato Institute Troubled Currencies Project, which I direct, began to measure Venezuela’s inflation in 2013. We measure the monthly and annual inflation rates on a daily basis. We measure. We do not forecast.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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