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The Golden Age of Gas… Possibly: An Interview With The IEA | Zero Hedge

The Golden Age of Gas… Possibly: An Interview With The IEA | Zero Hedge.

Submitted by James Stafford via OilPrice.com,

The potential for a golden age of gas comes along with a big “if” regarding environmental and social impact. The International Energy Agency (IEA)—the “global energy authority”–believes that this age of gas can be golden, and that unconventional gas can be produced in an environmentally acceptable way.

In an exclusive interview with Oilprice.com, IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, discusses:

  • The potential for a golden age of gas
  • What will the “age” means for renewables
  • What it means for humanity
  • The challenges of renewable investment and technology
  • How the US shale boom is reshaping the global economy
  • Nuclear’s contribution to energy security
  • What is holding back Europe’s energy markets
  • The next big shale venues beyond 2020
  • The reality behind “fire ice”
  • Condensate and the crude export ban
  • The most critical energy issue facing the world today

Interview by. James Stafford of Oilprice.com

Oilprice.com: In 2011, the IEA predicted what it called “the golden age of gas,” with gas production rising 50% over the next 25 years. What does this “golden age” mean for coal, oil and nuclear energy—and for renewables? What does it mean for humanity in terms of carbon emissions? Is the natural gas boom lessening the sense of urgency to work towards renewable energy solutions?

IEA: We didn’t predict a golden age of gas in 2011, we merely asked a pertinent question: namely, are we entering a golden age of gas? And we found that the potential for such a golden age certainly exists, especially given the scale of unconventional gas resources and the advances in technology that allow their extraction. But the potential for a golden age of gas hinges on a big “if,” and we elaborated on this in 2012 in a report called “Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas”. Exploiting the world’s vast resources of unconventional natural gas holds the key to golden age of gas, we said, but for that to happen, governments, industry and other stakeholders must work together to address legitimate public concerns about the associated environmental and social impacts. Fortunately, we believe that unconventional gas can be produced in an environmentally acceptable way.

Under the central scenario of the World Energy Outlook-2013, natural gas production rises to 4.98 trillion cubic metres (tcm) in 2035, up nearly 50 percent from 3.38 tcm in 2011. But we have always said that a golden age of gas does not necessarily imply a golden age for humanity, or for our climate. An expansion of gas use alone is no panacea for climate change. While natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, it is still a fossil fuel. As we have seen in the United States, the drastic increase in shale gas production has caused coal’s share of electricity generation to slide. Of course, there is also the possibility that increased use of gas could muscle out low-carbon fuels, such as renewables and nuclear, from the energy mix.

OP: When will we see “the golden age of renewables”?

IEA: Although we have not yet predicted a “golden age” of renewables, the current, rapid growth of renewable power is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak picture of global progress towards a cleaner and more diversified energy mix. Still, the investment case for capital-intensive, low carbon power technologies carries challenges. We need to distinguish between two situations:

•    In emerging economies, renewable power often provides a cost-competitive alternative to new fossil based generation and are perceived as part of the solution to questions of energy supply, diversification, and economic development. In China, for example, efforts to reduce local pollution are stimulating major investments in cleaner energy.

•    By contrast, in stable systems with sluggish demand, no technology is competitive with marginal electricity prices, due to overcapacity. Governments are nervous about increasing investment in low-carbon options which impact on consumer prices, and this is causing policy uncertainty. But long term energy security and environmental goals need to be kept in mind.

The overall outlook for renewable electricity remains positive, even as the outlook can vary strongly by market and region. However, the electricity sector comprises less than 20% of total final energy consumption. The growth of renewables in other sectors such as transport and heat has been more sluggish. For a golden age of renewables to materialise, greater progress is needed in these areas, for example, with the development of advanced biofuels and more policy frameworks for renewable heat.

OP: How is the shale boom reshaping the global financial and economic system? Who are the winners and losers in this emerging scenario?

IEA: One of the key messages of our World Energy Outlook-2013 is that lower energy prices in the United States mean that it is well-placed to reap an economic advantage, while higher costs for energy-intensive industries in Europe and Japan are set to be a heavy burden.

Natural gas prices have fallen sharply in the United States – mainly as a result of the shale gas boom –  and today they are about three times lower than in Europe and five times lower than in Japan. Electricity price differentials are also large, with Japanese and European industrial consumers paying on average more than twice as much for electricity as their counterparts in the United States, and even Chinese industry paying  almost double the US level.

Looking to the future, the WEO found that the United States sees its share of global exports of energy-intensive goods slightly increase to 2035, providing the clearest indication of the link between relatively low energy prices and the industrial outlook. By contrast, the European Union and Japan see their share of global exports decline – a combined loss of around one-third of their current share.

OP: The IEA has noted that the US is no longer so dependent on Canadian oil and gas. What could this mean for pending approval of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline? How important is Keystone XL to the US as opposed to its importance for Canada?

IEA: The decision on the Keystone matter is one that must be taken by the United States Government. I am afraid it is not for the IEA to comment.

OP: With the nuclear issue taking center stage in Japan’s election atmosphere, is Japan ready to pull the plug entirely on nuclear, or is it too soon for that?

IEA: This year’s World Energy Outlook, which we will release in November 2014, will carry a special focus on nuclear energy, so please stay tuned. While I won’t discuss what Japan should do, I will say that every country has a sovereign right to decide on the role of nuclear power in its energy mix. Nevertheless, nuclear is one of the world’s largest sources of low-carbon energy, and as such, it has made and should continue to make an important contribution to energy security and sustainability.

A country’s decision to cut the share of nuclear in its energy mix could open up new opportunities for renewables, particularly as some phase-out plans envision the replacement of nuclear capacity largely with renewable energy sources. However, such a decision would also likely lead to higher demand for gas and coal, higher electricity prices, increased import dependency on fossil fuels and electricity, and a more difficult path towards decarbonisation. Such a scenario would therefore make it much more difficult for the world to meet the 2°C climate stabilisation goal, and have potentially negative impacts on energy security.

OP: What is the key factor holding back European energy markets?

IEA: Europe has quite a few advantages but also many hurdles to overcome. If I had to pick one key factor that is holding back European energy markets, I would say it is the lack of cross-border interconnections. Let me explain what I mean. As we showed in WEO 2013, Europe’s competitiveness is under pressure, as energy price differences grow between Europe and its major trading partners – the US, China and Russia. High oil and gas import prices combined with low gas and electricity demand, following the recession, are impacting European economies.

Europe should accelerate the use of its indigenous potential and reap the social and economic benefits from energy efficiency, renewable energies and unconventional oil and gas. In open economies, there are significant advantages to be gained from free trade and a large energy market. One example: Today, we cannot make use of competitive electricity prices across the EU, as physical trade barriers exist and markets remain national. Europe is failing to achieve its potential. The electricity grid and system integration is very low, which also serves as a barrier to the full and efficient exploitation of renewable energy potentials. This is why addressing the issue of cross-border interconnections is so important.

OP: Where do you foresee the next “shale boom”?

IEA: According to WEO projections, there will be little non-North American shale development before 2020 due to the much earlier stage of exploration and the time needed to build up the oil field service value chain. Beyond 2020, we project large-scale shale gas production in China, Argentina, Australia as well as significant light tight oil production in Russia. The current reform proposals in Mexico have the potential to put Mexico on the top of that list as well, but they need to be properly implemented.

OP: What is the realistic future of methane hydrates, or “fire ice”?

IEA: Methane hydrates may offer a means of further increasing the supply of natural gas. However, producing gas from methane hydrates poses huge technological challenges, and the relevant extraction technology is in its infancy. Both in Canada and Japan the first test drillings have taken place, and the Japanese government is aiming to achieve commercial production in 10 to 15 years.

One thing I always mention when I am asked about methane hydrates is this: It may seem far off and uncertain, but keep in mind that shale gas was in the same position 10 to 15 years ago. So we cannot rule out that new energy revolutions may take place through technological developments and price incentives.

OP: Have we hit the “crude wall” in the US, the point at which oil production growth may end up slowing due to infrastructure and regulatory constraints?

IEA: In January 2013, the IEA’s Oil Market Report examined the possibility that as surging production continues to move the US closer to becoming a net oil exporter, there may come a time when various regulations, particularly the US ban on exports of crude oil to countries other than Canada, could have an adverse impact on continued investment in LTO – and thus continued growth in production. We called this point the “crude wall”.

A year later, in our January 2014 Oil Market Report, we noted that with US crude oil production exceeding even the boldest of expectations in 2013 by a wide margin, the crude wall now seems to be looming larger than ever. Having said that, challenges to US production growth are not imminent. Potential US growth in 2014 seems a given, even against the backdrop of resurgent non-OPEC supply growth outside North America.

OP: How is this shaping the crude export debate and where do you foresee this debate leading by the end of this year?

IEA: You are better off asking my friends and colleagues in Washington! This is obviously a sensitive topic. Different people feel differently about it, often very strongly. Oil policy always is the product of multiple, sometimes-competing considerations.

OP: What would lifting the ban on crude exports mean for US refiners, and for the US economy?

IEA: Many refiners and other major oil consumers have said they support keeping the ban amid worries that allowing exports would result in higher feedstock costs and erode their competitive advantage, or shift value-added industry abroad. On the other hand, oil producers have in general come out in favour of lifting the ban, arguing that the “crude wall” may become so large that it cannot be overcome; they see the possibility of a glut causing prices to slump and thereby choking off production. We have not produced any detailed analysis on the economic impact of lifting the ban, so I cannot comment on that part of your question.

OP: Are there any other ways around the “crude wall” aside from lifting the export ban?

IEA: As we wrote in our January 2014 Oil Market Report, much of the LTO is produced in the form of lease condensate, which is most optimally processed in a condensate splitter. There is currently only one such facility in the United States, although at least five others are in various stages of planning and construction.

I mention this issue because one could imagine a scenario under which lease condensate is excluded from the crude export restriction. The US Department of Commerce, which enforces the export ban, includes lease condensates in the definition of crude oil. However, this definition could be changed, or the Commerce Department could simply issue lease condensate export licenses at the behest of the President.

OP: How will the six-month agreement to ease sanctions on Iran affect Iranian oil production? And if international sanctions are indeed lifted after this “trial period”, how long will it take Iran to affect a real increase in production?

IEA: The deal between P5+1 and Iran doesn’t change the oil sanctions themselves. The oil sanctions remain fully in place though the P5+1 agreed not to tighten them further. Relaxing insurance sanctions doesn’t mean more oil in the market.

As for the second part of your question, I am afraid I can’t answer hypotheticals and what-ifs.

OP: What is the single most critical energy issue in the US this year?

IEA: I think that if you take the view that the energy-policy decisions you make now have ramifications for many decades to come, and if you believe what scientists tell us about the climate consequences of our energy consumption, then the single most critical energy issue in the US is the same issue for every country: what are you going to do with your energy policy to mitigate the risk of climate change? Energy is responsible for two-thirds of greenhouse-gas emissions, and right now these emissions are on track to cause global temperatures to rise between 3.6 degrees C and 5.3 degrees C. If we stay on our present emissions pathway, we are not going to come close to achieving the globally agreed target of limiting the rise in temperatures to 2 degrees C; we are instead going to have a catastrophe. So energy clearly has to be part of the climate solution – both in the short- and long-term.

OP: What is the IEA’s role in shaping critical energy issues globally and how can its influence be described, politically and intellectually?

IEA: Founded in response to the 1973/4 oil crisis, the IEA was initially meant to help countries co-ordinate a collective response to major disruptions in oil supply through the release of emergency oil stocks to the markets.

While this continues to be a key aspect of our work, the IEA has evolved and expanded over the last 40 years. I like to think of the IEA today as the global energy authority. We are at the heart of global dialogue on energy, providing authoritative statistics, analysis and recommendations. This applies both to our member countries as well as to the key emerging economies that are driving most of the growth in energy demand – and with whom we cooperate on an increasingly active basis.

Marc Faber Warns “Insiders Are Selling Like Crazy… Short US Stocks, Buy Treasuries & Gold” | Zero Hedge

Marc Faber Warns “Insiders Are Selling Like Crazy… Short US Stocks, Buy Treasuries & Gold” | Zero Hedge.

Beginning by disavowing Mario Gabelli of any belief that rising stock prices help ‘most’ people (“Fed data suggests half the US population has seen a 40% drop in wealth since 2007“), Marc Faber discusses his increasingly imminent fears of the markets in this recent Barron’s interview.

Quoting Hussman as a caveat, “The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. There’s no calling the top,” Faber warns there are a lot of questions about the quality of earnings (from buybacks to unfunded pensions) but “statistics show that company insiders are selling their shares like crazy.”

His first recommendation – short the Russell 2000, buy 10-year US Treasuries (“there will be no magnificent US recovery”), and miners and adds “own physical gold because the old system will implode. Those who own paper assets are doomed.”

Via Barron’s,

Faber: This morning, I said most people don’t benefit from rising stock prices. This handsome young man on my left said I was incorrect. [Gabelli starts preening.] Yet, here are some statistics from Gallup’s annual economy and personal-finance survey on the percentage of U.S. adults invested in the market. The survey, whose results were published in May, asks whether respondents personally or jointly with a spouse have any money invested in the market, either in individual stock accounts, stock mutual funds, self-directed 401(k) retirement accounts, or individual retirement accounts.Only 52% responded positively.

Gabelli: They didn’t ask about company-sponsored 401(k)s, so it is a faulty question.

Faber: An analysis of Federal Reserve data suggests that half the U.S. population has seen a 40% decrease in wealth since 2007.

In Reminiscences of a Stock Operator [a fictionalized account of the trader Jesse Livermore that has become a Wall Street classic], Livermore said, “It never was my thinking that made the big money for me. It was always my sitting. Got that? My sitting tight.” Here’s another thought from John Hussmann of the Hussmann Funds: “The problem with bubbles is that they force one to decide whether to look like an idiot before the peak, or an idiot after the peak. There’s no calling the top, and most of the signals that have been most historically useful for that purpose have been blaring red since late 2011.”

I am negative about U.S. stocks, and the Russell 2000 in particular. Regarding Abby’s energy recommendation, this is one of the few sectors with insider buying. In other sectors, statistics show that company insiders are selling their shares like crazy, and companies are buying like crazy.

Zulauf: These are the same people.

Faber: Precisely. Looking at 10-year annualized returns for U.S. stocks, the Value Line arithmetic index has risen 11% a year. The Standard & Poor’s 600 and the Nasdaq 100 have each risen 9.4% a year. In other words, the market hasn’t done badly. Sentiment figures are extremely bullish, and valuations are on the high side.

But there are a lot of questions about earnings, both because of stock buybacks and unfunded pension liabilities. How can companies have rising earnings, yet not provision sufficiently for their pension funds?

Good question. Where are you leading us with your musings?

Faber: What I recommend to clients and what I do with my own portfolio aren’t always the same. That said, my first recommendation is to short the Russell 2000. You can use the iShares Russell 2000 exchange-traded fund [IWM]. Small stocks have outperformed large stocks significantly in the past few years.

Next, I would buy 10-year Treasury notes, because I don’t believe in this magnificent U.S. economic recovery. The U.S. is going to turn down, and bond yields are going to fall. Abby just gave me a good idea. She is long the iShares MSCI Mexico Capped ETF, so I will go short.

What are you doing with your own money?

Faber: I have a lot of cash, and I bought Treasury bonds.

Faber: I have no faith in paper money, period. Next, insider buying is also high in gold shares. Gold has massively underperformed relative to the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000. Maybe the price will go down some from here, but individual investors and my fellow panelists and Barron’s editors ought to own some gold. About 20% of my net worth is in gold. I don’t even value it in my portfolio. What goes down, I don’t value.

Which stocks are you recommending?

Faber: I recommend the Market Vectors Junior Gold Miners ETF [GDXJ], although I don’t own it. I own physical gold because the old system will implode. Those who own paper assets are doomed.

Zulauf: Can you put the time frame on the implosion?

Faber: Let’s enjoy dinner tonight. Maybe it will happen tomorrow.

There is a colossal bubble in assets. When central banks print money, all assets go up. When they pull back, we could see deflation in asset prices but a pickup in consumer prices and the cost of living. Still, you have to own some assets. Hutchison Port Holdings Trust yields about 7%. It owns several ports in Hong Kong and China, which isn’t a good business right now. When the economy slows, the dividend might be cut to 5% or so. Many Singapore real-estate investment trusts have corrected meaningfully, and now yield 5% to 6%. They aren’t terrific investments because property prices could fall. But if you have a negative view of the world, and you think trade will contract, property prices will fall, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury will drop, a REIT like Hutchison is a relatively attractive investment.

Faber: The outlook for property in Asia isn’t bad because a lot of Europeans realize they will need to leave Europe for tax reasons. They can live in Singapore and be taxed at a much lower rate. Even if China grows by only 3% or 4%, it is better than Europe. People are moving up the economic ladder in Asia and into the middle class.

Are you bullish on India?

Faber: I am on the board of the oldest India fund [the India Capital fund]. The macroeconomic outlook for India isn’t good, but an election is coming, and the market always rallies into elections.The leading candidate is pro-business. He is speaking before huge crowds.

In dollar terms, the Indian market is still down about 40% from the peak, because the currency has weakened. In the 1970s, stock market indexes performed poorly and stock-picking came to the fore. Asia could be like that now. It is a huge region, and you have to invest by company. Some Indian companies will do well, and others poorly. Some people made 40% on their investments in China last year, but the benchmark index did poorly.

I like Vietnam. The economy has had its troubles, and the market has seen a big decline. I want you to visualize Vietnam. [Stands up, walks to a nearby wall, and begins to draw a map of Vietnam with his hands.] Here’s Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City, the border with China, and the Mekong River. And here in the middle, on the coast, is Da Nang.

Faber: I recommend shorting the Turkish lira. I had an experience in Turkey that led me to believe that some families are above the law. When I see that in an emerging economy, it makes me careful about investing.

 

Argentine Prices Soar Following Peso Devaluation Which Only Benefits 20% Of Population | Zero Hedge

Argentine Prices Soar Following Peso Devaluation Which Only Benefits 20% Of Population | Zero Hedge.

Here is how Reuters summarized the soaring price expectations in the country under its first day with “relaxed” controls:

Argentina’s sudden relaxation of currency controls, long touted by the government as essential to the country’s financial health, has left investors wondering what’s next for Latin America’s crisis-prone No. 3 economy. Shopkeepers around the country hurriedly placed new price tags over the weekend on imported items from Cuban cigars to Asia-made televisions, reflecting a more than 20 percent drop in the official peso rate over recent days.

The consumer price surge came after the government said on Friday it would lift a two-year-old ban on Argentines buying foreign currency, allowing savers access to coveted U.S. dollars while the peso was left to plummet. Friday’s relaxation of controls came as central bank reserves fell beneath $30 billion, a level suggesting its interventions in support of the anemic peso had become unsustainable.

But allowing average wage-earners to access U.S. dollars was sure to pressure reserves as well, because the central bank is the main source of foreign exchange. The announcement on Friday ended a two-year ban on saving in the greenback.

So far inflation has been in check, mostly thanks to a price freeze imposed this month on staple foods which has kept a lid on basic supermarket items. Reuters says that “no one knows how long those prices can hold while labor unions prepare wage demands based on one of the world’s highest inflation rates.” For now, they are holding. They won’t for long, and if Argentina reports 30 percent inflation this year, as private analysts expect, it would mark the fastest rate since the 2002 crisis, when inflation reached 41 percent.

However, one thing is certain: dollar demand by the general population is sure to flood the central banks, and force reserve depletion, which have been declining at a pace of over $100MM per day and were last at $29.1 billion, at the central bank to really pick up pace. To wit:

Conditioned by previous crises to save in dollars, Argentines are obsessed with the greenback. The currency control regime ending on Monday forced people to go to the black market for dollars needed to protect them from the weak peso and fast-rising consumer prices.

Luckily for the central bank, as Bloomberg calculates, at most 20% of the population will actually be able to take advantage of the “relaxed” capital controls, because only Argentines who earn at least 7,200 pesos ($901) per month will be allowed to buy dollars, Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich told reporters today. And since only 20% of Argentines earned 7,000 pesos or more as of 3Q 2013,according to the National Statistics and Census Institute, it means that 80% of the population will get all the “benefits” of inflation with zero benefits from dollar purchase price protection.

And it’s not like even the rich will be able to truly benefit: he limit for FX purchases will be $2,000/month and will be taxed at 20% unless deposited with bank for at least a year.

So in other words, Argentina’s capital control “fix” was largely a sham, designed to hide the real motive behind last week’s announcement – push inflation far higher, perhaps under some persistent external influence, which in turn would lead to even more social instability. This could be a problem.

Consumer prices are a big worry on the street, but the issue has not sparked mass protests lately. Tensions could rise over the weeks ahead as labor demands pay increases in line with private economists’ 2014 inflation estimates. Fernandez has mentioned neither consumer prices nor the peso’s plight in recent speeches, leaving her cabinet to announce policy changes. The next presidential election is next year, with Fernandez unable to seek a third term.

Possible candidates from the main parties offer policies that lean in a more pro-investment direction that Fernandez’s, as the outgoing leader tucks into her last two years in power.

“If the government fails to prevent inflation from accelerating it will probably hurt the chances of presidential aspirants who are aligned with the administration,” said Ignacio Labaqui, an analyst with Medley Global Advisors.

“A deeper economic crisis could provide a window of opportunity for candidates who are more business friendly.”

Such as technocrats from…  Goldman Sachs?

Peter Schiff Destroys The “Deflation Is An Ogre” Myth | Zero Hedge

Peter Schiff Destroys The “Deflation Is An Ogre” Myth | Zero Hedge.

Submitted by Peter Schiff via Euro Pacific Capital,

Dedicated readers of The Wall Street Journal have recently been offered many dire warnings about a clear and present danger that is stalking the global economy. They are not referring to a possible looming stock or real estate bubble (which you can find more on in my latest newsletter). Nor are they talking about other usual suspects such as global warming, peak oil, the Arab Spring, sovereign defaults, the breakup of the euro, Miley Cyrus, a nuclear Iran, or Obamacare. Instead they are warning about the horror that could result from falling prices, otherwise known as deflation. Get the kids into the basement Mom… they just marked down Cheerios!

In order to justify our current monetary and fiscal policies, in which governments refuse to reign in runaway deficits while central banks furiously expand the money supply, economists must convince us that inflation, which results in rising prices, is vital for economic growth.

Simultaneously they make the case that falling prices are bad. This is a difficult proposition to make because most people have long suspected that inflation is a sign of economic distress and that high prices qualify as a problem not a solution. But the absurdity of the position has not stopped our top economists, and their acolytes in the media, from making the case.

A January 5th article in The Wall Street Journal described the economic situation in Europe by saying “Anxieties are rising in the euro zone that deflation-the phenomenon of persistent falling prices across the economy that blighted the lives of millions in the 1930s-may be starting to take root as it did in Japan in the mid-1990s.” Really, blighted the lives of millions? When was the last time you were “blighted” by a store’s mark down? If you own a business, are you “blighted” when your suppliers drop their prices? Read more about Europe’s economy in my latest newsletter.

The Journal is advancing a classic “wet sidewalks cause rain” argument, confusing and inverting cause and effect. It suggests that falling prices caused the Great Depression and in turn the widespread consumer suffering that went along with it. But this puts the cart way in front of the horse.  The Great Depression was triggered by the bursting of a speculative bubble (resulted from too much easy money in the latter half of the 1920s). The resulting economic contraction, prolonged unnecessarily by the anti-market policies of Hoover and Roosevelt, was part of a necessary re-balancing.A bad economy encourages people to reduce current consumption and save for the future. The resulting drop in demand brings down prices.

But lower prices function as a counterweight to a contracting economy by cushioning the blow of the downturn. I would argue that those who lived through the Great Depression were grateful that they were able to buy more with what little money they had. Imagine how much worse it would have been if they had to contend with rising consumer prices as well. Consumers always want to buy, but sometimes they forego or defer purchases because they can’t afford a desired good or service. Higher prices will only compound the problem. It may surprise many Nobel Prize-winning economists, but discounts often motivate consumers to buy – -try the experiment yourself the next time you walk past the sale rack.

Economists will argue that expectations for future prices are a much bigger motivation than current prices themselves. But those economists concerned with deflation expect there to be, at most, a one or two percent decrease in prices. Can consumers be expected not to buy something today because they expect it to be one percent cheaper in a year? Bear in mind that something that a consumer can buy and use today is more valuable to the purchaser than the same item that is not bought until next year. The costs of going without a desired purchase are overlooked by those warning about the danger of deflation

In another article two days later, the Journal hit readers with the same message: “Annual euro-zone inflation weakened further below the European Central Bank’s target in December, rekindling fears that too little inflation or outright consumer-price declines may threaten the currency area’s fragile economy.” In this case, the paper adds “too little inflation” to the list of woes that needs to be avoided. Apparently, if prices don’t rise briskly enough, the wheels of an economy stop turning

Neither article mentions some very important historical context. For the first 120 years of the existence of the United States (before the establishment of the Federal Reserve), general prices trended downward. According to the Department of Commerce’s Statistical Abstract of the United States, the “General Price Index” declined by 19% from 1801 to 1900. This stands in contrast to the 2,280% increase of the CPI between 1913 and 2013

While the 19th century had plenty of well-documented ups and downs, people tend to forget that the country experienced tremendous economic growth during that time. Living standards for the average American at the end of the century were leaps and bounds higher than they were at the beginning. The 19th Century turned a formerly inconsequential agricultural nation into the richest, most productive, and economically dynamic nation on Earth. Immigrants could not come here fast enough. But all this happened against a backdrop of consistently falling prices.

Thomas Edison once said that his goal was to make electricity so cheap that only the rich would burn candles. He was fortunate to have no Nobel economists on his marketing team.They certainly would have advised him to raise prices to increase sales. But Edison’s strategy of driving sales volume through lower prices is clearly visible today in industries all over the world. By lowering prices, companies not only grow their customer base, but they tend to increase profits as well. Most visibly, consumer electronics has seen chronic deflation for years without crimping demand or hurting profits. According to the Wall Street Journal, this should be impossible.

The truth is the media is merely helping the government to spread propaganda. It is highly indebted governments that need inflation, not consumers. But before government can lead a self-serving crusade to create inflation, they must first convince the public that higher prices is a goal worth pursuing. Since inflation also helps sustain asset bubbles and prop up banks, in this instance The Wall Street Journal and the Government seem to be perfectly aligned.

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