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Comparing 35 Year Rates of Inflation

Posted by Larry Doyle on March 7th, 2013 5:27 AM |

A picture tells a thousand words, right?

Thank you to Jeff Gundlach and his band of truth tellers at Doubleline Funds for recently highlighting a Bureau of Labor Statistics/Consumer Price Index graph which shows the racket defined as higher education displays that the “thousand” applies not to words but to the rate of inflation within that segment over the past 35 years. The actual number is a mere 1,155%.

Every day we read of how students are increasingly delinquent and defaulting on their student loans. Those realities are no surprise as the Ponzi-style financing promoted to fund higher education feels the effect of students wondering “Where’s the value here?” and “Where’s my bailout?”

There are plenty of the same characteristics within medical care, which has only experienced a 600% rate of inflation during that same time frame.

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Thank you Mr. Gundlach and Doubleline.

Navigate accordingly.

Larry Doyle

Isn’t  it time or overtime to subscribe to all my work via e-mail, an RSS feed, on Twitter or Facebook.

I have no business interest with any entity referenced in this commentary. The opinions expressed are my own. I am a proponent of real transparency within our markets so that investor confidence and investor protection can be achieved.

Can Hyperinflation Happen Overnight?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 11th, 2010 12:50 PM |

Are the financial wizards in Washington and around the world concocting potions and building financial models which may create a greater crisis than that we are currently experiencing? What type of crisis might that be? Our friends in Germany know all to well about the perils of hyperinflation. Could we be facing the same prospects? While our central bankers are touting the current benefits of limited inflation, to be fair the bankers and the economy are battling the undercurrents of disinflation and deflation.

Could those currents change on a dime and create a ‘funnel’ in which our economy is engulfed by hyperinflation? Let’s navigate this topic and review a commentary put forth by Daryl Montgomery, a guest on No Quarter Radio’s Sense on Cents with Larry Doyle from March 7th. Daryl is a fellow contributing author at Seeking Alpha and writes on this topic today, (more…)

Can We Add Some Inflation to Some Deflation and Claim Overall Prices Are Stable?

Posted by Larry Doyle on October 15th, 2009 11:03 AM |

Inflation? Deflation? What is it going to be? As we continue to navigate the economic landscape, that question – perhaps more than any other – is of paramount concern. As I assess the economy and the markets, I envision the following:

> Ongoing deflationary pressures in real estate. Foreclosures hit a record level based on a report this morning.

> A likely increase in deflationary pressures from wages as unemployment continues to increase, hours worked do not pick up, and average hourly earnings are stagnant. How are corporations reporting earnings? Not from growth in top line revenue, but from cutting costs, including headcount.

I firmly believe these two overriding forces most concern the Fed and the threat that the deflationary forces could grow if not counteracted. How does the Fed counteract these pressures? Keep the liquidity pump running via a 0-.25% Fed Funds rate and now increased speculation of perhaps more quantitative easing in the form of purchasing more mortgage-backed securities.

What has been the result of all this liquidity running into the system? A significant decline in the value of our dollar. What does that create? Inflation. That’s good, right? A little inflation will provide some pricing power which supports our equity market. Not so fast. The inflation is not directly addressing the deflationary pressures in real estate and likely deflationary pressure in wages. The inflation is being generated primarily in commodities. What does that mean? Prices for food, gas, oil, and other raw material inputs will increase. As those prices increase, the cost of living in America will increase. Regrettably, that increase in cost of living will not be offset by an increase in wages.

Daily Finance provides a preview of the coming rise in food prices in writing, Sticker Shock at the Supermarket: Food Prices Poised to Rise:

If there’s any silver lining to a recession — albeit a thin one — it’s that consumer prices typically go down. Make no mistake, deflation is a sign of a sick economy, but at least the net effect of cheaper prices for the basic necessities — food, clothing and shelter — helps folks get by when they are struggling to make ends meet.

But consumers should brace themselves for things to change, especially at the supermarket. As the global and U.S. economies emerge from the downturn, economists predict that there is going to be some sticker shock at the checkout line. Food prices, they say, are heading higher and when you combine that with an unemployment rate that’s expected to linger near a three-decade high for at least another year, it’s even more unwelcome news.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects overall food prices to rise as much as 4 percent in the U.S. by the end of 2010. Yet, some economists think they could climb by as much as 5 percent. Even using the government’s more conservative numbers, the price for eggs is forecast to rise 3 percent and beef is seen increasing 2 percent. Lamb, seafood and fish? All three categories are expected to jump as much as 5 percent.

A 5 percent boost in your grocery bill may not seem terribly devastating, but consider this: If you spend $300 a week on groceries now, you’ll need to squeeze a raise of about a thousand dollars a year out of your boss (don’t forget withholding tax) just to keep up with higher chicken, beef, pork and dairy prices. Good luck accomplishing that little feat with a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and companies looking into every nook and cranny in order to cut costs.

Why again are these prices poised to increase?

the weak U.S. dollar means we will be exporting more of our homegrown food overseas, causing prices to rise at home.

The consumer will continue to get squeezed, but the wizards in Washington will be able to pronounce that the overall level of inflation is stable. Really?

-3 + 3 = 0 is not the same as 0 + 0 = 0 !!!

What a world.

LD

Bernanke Conundrum

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 8th, 2009 7:27 AM |

Overnight markets indicate that Treasury prices are lower and interest rates subsequently higher (remember the inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates). 2yr Treasury notes are trading at 1.33% and 10yr Treasury notes are trading at 3.85% (both are .03% higher from Friday’s close).

If interest rates are higher, clearly that move must be an indication that economic activity is improving and equity markets should be higher overnight, correct? In “normal” economic times, perhaps that line of reasoning would hold water, but in the Uncle Sam economy, we need to go deeper.

Equity futures indicate our stock markets will open lower by approximately 1%. What’s going on? Welcome to the Bernanke conundrum! What is the riddle wrapped inside our economic enigma? How can Fed chair Ben Bernanke nurse our economy back to health while at the same time maintaining the necessary fiscal independence, integrity, and discipline of robust Fed policy?

Big Ben has used aggressive measures to backstop a wide swath of our markets. In the process, he has created a fair amount of stability but with an effective government guarantee “insurance” policy as the cost of stability. Some of these policies have lessened in size as certain sectors have normalized. However, the major Fed programs remain in place. What are these?

1. quantitative easing: commitment to buy $1.3 trillion in total of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities in an attempt to keep these rates down. Then why are rates rising? More on this in a second.

2. commitment to provide necessary liquidity as needed to support the “wards of the state” including Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, GM, AIG, Citigroup.

These programs in conjunction with the massive deficit spending programs undertaken by the Obama administration have ballooned our expected funding needs in calendar 2009 to upwards of $3 trillion, a fourfold increase over prior years.

In my opinion, interest rates are moving up much less on any real signs of economic improvement than on these funding needs and very real signs of a monetary printing press malfunction. What’s that? With the Fed Funds rate at 0-.25%, the Fed is literally flooding the economy with cash. Where is that cash going? Is it flowing through to the economy? Not really.

The cash is pouring into the banking system to cushion and support financial institutions from the ongoing losses connected to rising defaults on credit cards, residential mortgages, commercial real estate, and corporate loans.

The market is now very clearly sending a signal to Bernanke, Geithner, Obama and team that if they want to continue their programs as designed (and they do and will), the price, that is the rate of interest, is going up. Why?

The market is very concerned that the flood of liquidity will lead to inflation if not rampant inflation and potentially hyperinflation. How does Bernanke head that off?

Withdraw the very liquidity that he has found so necessary to pour into the financial system. How does he do that?Two ways.

1. increase the Fed Funds rate: that is, make borrowing more expensive.

2. reverse the quantitative easing program so that the Fed actually sells Treasury and mortgage-backed securities into the market and takes liquidity out in the process. What are the impacts of both those maneuvers? Higher interest rates.

In fact, interest rates are moving higher already in anticipation of Bernanke being forced to make these moves. Can Bernanke “thread this needle?” What will happen if interest rates move higher?

Slow the economy, especially housing given higher mortgage rates, and lower earnings especially for financial institutions. To wit, our equity markets are lower overnight.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

LD

Inflation, Deflation, or Stagflation?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 1st, 2009 11:06 AM |

I am an eternal optimist and, as such, I never want to see people’s spirits waver. I encourage people not to allow the current economy to “deflate” their hopes for better days. By the same token, I am a pragmatist and caution people not to view the recent bounce in our equity markets as reason for an overly “inflated” sense of optimism. In this same spirit, though, we need sufficient optimism along with practical analysis to avoid the perils of “stagflation.” Let me expound.

The debate between analysts touting prospects for inflation versus deflation is ongoing. Those concerned with deflation highlight increasing levels of unemployment pressuring wages, falling asset valuations, and slack consumer demand. Those concerned with inflation point toward the unprecedented levels of liquidity injected into our system via all of the government programs. The inflation hawks maintain the economy merely needs a small spark and inflation will spread in an uncontrollable arson-like fashion.

I actually believe there is a very real chance we get developments from both camps leading to the scourge known as stagflation. How may this play out?

Many respected analysts are promoting the concept of a new “normal” economy. This scenario entails an economy operating with enormous government deficits, an elevated level of unemployment, and little to no shadow banking system (securitization of loans and other assets).

In this new “normal” economy, GDP may only eke out small positive growth given these heightened pressures. Pimco’s Mohamed El-Erian writes of A New Normal:

This reflects a growing realization that some of the recent abrupt changes to markets, households, institutions, and government policies are unlikely to be reversed in the next few years. Global growth will be subdued for a while and unemployment high; a heavy hand of government will be evident in several sectors; the core of the global system will be less cohesive and, with the magnet of the Anglo-Saxon model in retreat, finance will no longer be accorded a preeminent role in post-industrial economies. Moreover, the balance of risk will tilt over time toward higher sovereign risk, growing inflationary expectations and stagflation.

Even as we come out of this recession, our economy will run increased risks of slipping into another recession given the lack of cushion provided by a strong consumer, the burdens of heavy government debts, and inability to easily access credit.

El-Erian adds:

For the next 3–5 years, we expect a world of muted growth, in the context of a continuing shift away from the G-3 and toward the systemically important emerging economies, led by China. It is a world where the public sector overstays as a provider of goods that belong in the private sector. (As one of our speakers put it, we have transitioned from a world where the private sector provided public goods to one where the public sector provides private goods.) It is also a world in which central banks and treasuries will find it difficult to undo smoothly some of the recent emergency steps. This is particularly consequential in countries, such as the U.K. and U.S., where many short-term policy imperatives materially conflict with medium-term ones.

As our global economy transitions to this new “normal,” I believe the likelihood of stagflation is quite high. For those who recall the perils of our economy in the early 1980s, stagflation is not a pretty picture. How does one manage investments and personal finances in an environment of stagflation?

Let’s deal with the component parts. Given sluggish growth, limited credit, and lessened opportunities, it is of paramount importance to cut expenses and minimize debt as much as possible. Servicing debt will be an ongoing challenge and increasingly problematic. Be proactive at this point in time in adjusting your finances to this reality.

Where will the inflation come from and how does one address it? In my opinion, the inflation “train” will arrive sooner than we think. Some of the savviest investors, including Financial Pacific Advisors’ Bob Rodriguez and noted Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, are already positioning themselves for it. (The WSJ reports, Black Swan Fund Makes a Big Bet on Inflation).

How can people protect themselves from the inflation monster? Increase exposure to the following:

  – precious metals and commodities

  – critical infrastructure (power plants, agriculture, water, transportation)

  – necessary life items (drugs, medicines, food)

  – stronger and more fiscally prudent foreign markets

Decrease exposure if not get outright short

  – longer maturity (5yr and and longer) Treasury bonds

This stagflation story will have many chapters and I will be writing extensively on it. Please share your thoughts, opinions, and recollections of the early 80s economy so we can all move forward most effectively in navigating the economic landscape.

LD

Full Throttle

Posted by Larry Doyle on May 27th, 2009 11:28 AM |

To say that we are in the economic fight of our lives would be a gross understatement. While we are feeding ammo into all our weaponry on the main deck, are we remiss in keeping a close eye on what is happening “in the engine room”?

Let’s go into the control room on the main deck and scope things out. On one wing, we see the plans to combat the problems in the commercial real estate market have suffered a setback. Bloomberg reconnaissance provides details: Top Rated Commercial Mortgage Debt May Face Cuts:    

The highest-graded bonds backed by commercial mortgages may be cut by Standard & Poor’s, potentially rendering the securities ineligible for a $1 trillion U.S. program to jumpstart lending. 

As much as 90 percent of so-called super senior commercial- mortgage backed bonds sold in 2007 may be affected as the ratings firm changes how it assesses the debt, New York-based S&P said today in a report. About 25 percent of the bonds sold in 2005, and 60 percent of those sold in 2006 may be cut.

“We believe these transactions are characterized by increasingly more aggressive underwriting than prior vintages,” S&P said. “Furthermore, recent-vintage CMBS, particularly those issued since 2006, were originated during a time of peak rents and values,” and may be more affected by falling rents.

Cutting the ratings would exclude the securities from the Federal Reserve’s program to bolster credit markets by financing the purchase of older commercial real-estate debt. To be eligible for the program, collateral can’t carry a rating below AAA from any rating firm.

This development is a MAJOR setback in our economic battle. An overhang of office space and underperforming real estate properties will be a significant drag not only on earnings for holders of the loans but also on the economies where these properties are located. (more…)






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