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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.
Iwas in St. Kitts last week for the Liberty Forum conference, where I was a speaker. I also moderated a debate pitting Peter Schiff against Harry Dent on the inflation-deflation question.
Things got really hot. There was some yelling, and at one point, Harry stood up and tossed his mic in frustration. I thought they might go at it.
I want to tell you about this debate…
Peter Schiff is the chief strategist at the brokerage firm Euro Pacific. He has a radio show and has written some books. He’s probably most known as calling for a collapse in the dollar and being generally bearish on the U.S. economy.
Harry Dent is also a well-known financial commentator. He writes a newsletter and is author of several books. He’s probably most famous for his predictions based on demographics. He’s also a vocal deflationist.
Inflation here means generally rising prices. Deflation means prices are generally falling. There are other consequences associated with each. For example, Peter believes interest rates will rise. Harry thinks they will fall. Peter thinks the dollar will lose value, Harry thinks not.
Peter’s argument essentially was that the Fed is printing a lot of money and would continue to do so. Hence, inflation.
Harry’s argument was that the debt deflation dynamics were the more powerful force. The economy has to delever, and as debts are repaid or written off, that process destroys money, more than offsetting the printing press.
They touched on a lot of other things in the course of the debate — past hyperinflations, China’s role and more.
The debate started out calmly enough, but after about 20 minutes, they really starting going at it.
Harry won the debate, in my view. He had a good command of the facts and presented them well. I had also watched the presentations of both before the debate. Harry had marshaled an impressive array of evidence and made a good argument.
My respect for Harry went up. For whatever reason, I had thought of him as a bit of a quack, but he has done a lot of good work on this stuff.
Before 2008, I was solidly in the inflationist camp. But think about what’s happened since 2008. If I told you back then that the Fed’s balance sheet would balloon fivefold — creating lots of money — what would you have guessed the world would look like in 2013?
Wouldn’t you be surprised to see the 10-year Treasury note pay just 2.8%? Wouldn’t you be surprised to find gold languishing at $1,235 an ounce? The inflationist view had interest rates and gold higher — not lower.
So something is clearly not right with the “Fed’s printing money and we’re going to have inflation” argument. At some point, you have to re-evaluate the way you look at the world. Or you just sit content to be wrong. In financial markets, that can be costly.
In this light, I appreciated Harry’s efforts, as his framework was the more challenging one to believe, but it has unquestionably been a better predictor of what’s happened post-2008.
Even in the course of this debate, though, it struck me how many assumptions get passed off as givens.
For example: Commodities will protect you in times of high inflation.
Well, they don’t have a history of doing that.
As James Montier of GMO points out in his most recent research note:
“Commodities are often seen as an inflation hedge; however, this is almost entirely due to the experience of the 1970s and the creation of OPEC, and the domination of energy in the generally used commodity indexes. If you had held the ‘wrong’ commodities, their inflation hedging performance would have looked very different (witness copper and grain).”
Here is the chart:
So during the highly inflationary 1970s, oil was a great investment, but copper and corn were terrible. Commodities generally have lost value over the last century at the rate of almost 2% annually, according to GMO. Yet I see it repeated again and again by various advisers telling their clients/readers to own commodities to protect against inflation.
The same is true of gold.
Here is Montier again:
“Gold is often held up as an inflation hedge. However, the data provide a challenge to this view. [The next chart] shows the decade-by-decade average inflation rate, and the real return to holding gold over the same decade. It doesn’t make pretty viewing for those who believe gold is an inflation hedge. That perception is down to one decade (the 1970s) when it held that inflation and gold were positively correlated. The rest of the time there isn’t a good relationship between gold and inflation.”
And here is the chart:
Yet people repeat — on faith, I guess — that gold will protect them during inflation. The record of gold on this front is spotty. It might. It might not.
Montier’s paper, by the way, concludes that there aren’t any good inflation hedges in the short term. But over the long term, stocks and real estate are good inflation hedges. (He says the best is TIPS — Treasury inflation-protected securities.) In fact, Montier shows that even in countries that have suffered high inflation (or evenhyperinflation) in the 20th century — such as Germany and Italy — stocks still delivered positive real returns. And real estate value correlates with replacement costs, which rise during inflationary times.
After the debate, I sat on a panel with several other speakers. Asked if we’d have inflation or deflation, my first answer was an honest one: “I don’t know.” Forced to guess, I think we have deflation first, inflation later.
In general, the long-term way to bet is that the U.S. dollar in your pocket will buy less tomorrow than today.
Even Harry’s own presentation had a chart that makes it hard to argue any other way:
It is true the dollar can do something different for years at a time. (I mean, look at the 1930s.) But as a long-term investor, I’d rather own businesses or real estate than cash. Then again, I’d rather own cash-spinning businesses and real estate than commodities or gold.
Whatever you do, though, don’t let an old assumption pass uncontested. If you think there’s going to be inflation, you could at least be in the right things. And keep an open mind as to what may happen in 2014. The only certain thing about investing is that there are no certainties. That was my main takeaway from the fiery debate in St. Kitts.
P.S. “I buy on the assumption,” Warren Buffett once said, “that they could close the market the next day and not reopen it for five years.” These days, you never know what’s down the road. That’s exactly why I’ve created one simple self-sustaining model portfolio to pull in impressive gains. The less you mess with it… the better. Some may think it’s being “lazy”… or even “too boring.” Even so, they can’t deny one thing: It works. And in yesterday’s Daily Resource Hunter, I gave readers a chance to check it out for themselves. Just one little perk of being a member of the FREE Daily Resource Hunter. Don’t miss another issue. Sign up for FREE, right here.
Although the U.S. stock market continues to hit new nominal highs on a nearly daily basis, the U.S. economy bumps along at a lackluster pace. This disconnect has been achieved by a massive Fed experiment in monetary stimulation. Through the combination of seemingly endless maintenance of zero interest rates and the injection of some $1trillion a year of synthetic money into fixed-income markets, the Fed is hoping that the boom it is creating on Wall Street will lead to a boom on Main Street. In reality, this a very dangerous economic gamble of enormously high stakes. As we have seen in the recent past, financial bubbles can leave catastrophe in their wake.
However, there are many in the financial establishment who disagree with the professor, including, most interestingly, Professor Karl Case, the co-creator of the famous Case-Shiller Home Price Index. Most markets either believe that current share prices are fully justified by corporate metrics or they believe the Fed has expertise, and the ability, to prevent an ugly sell-off if things turn out badly. This debate has become the defining conversation as we head into the end of the year.
However, those who believe that QE will produce positive results to compensate for the risks are finding their position to be increasingly difficult to defend. At the International Monetary Fund’s November annual conference in Washington, Mr. David Wilcox, reputed to be one of the Fed’s most important economic advisors, offered insight into some problems facing QE. In essence, he maintained that the Fed’s QE-3 program is producing only very limited results in terms of U.S. economic growth. At the same time, he seemed to hint that unlimited QE could create serious financial market distortions.
Many market observers, including myself, think that the Fed’s open-ended QE program has been a massively expensive failure. As a result, market watchers have become increasingly eager for the program to be wound down, and many do not understand the Fed’s reluctance to taper its monthly bond purchases.
Although many of the more open-minded members of the Fed’s Open Market Committee may have lost faith in the ability of QE to deliver tangible gains in the real economy, they have also shown some concern that a diminishing of QE could trigger stock and bond market turmoil. There can be little doubt that such an outcome could usher in a new round of recession. In other words the “good” that the Fed sees in QE may merely be the prevention of a potentially worse reality.
A majority of investors have seemed to convince themselves that QE has become an unneeded crutch that the Fed will be more than happy to abandon by the end of next year. Many believe that such an outcome will place limited downward pressure on stocks, bonds and real estate. These views are Pollyannish in the extreme. The recent sell-off in the bond market should attest to that. On the other hand, some investors, including some aggressive hedge funds, seem to be operating under the belief that QE will not be ended any time soon, if ever. They have even borrowed massively to invest on booming financial markets that stand already at record highs. Today, total New York Stock Exchange margin debt stands at $412 billion, an all-time record.
The disagreements of the investing public are of little weight in comparison to the opinions of the FOMC members themselves (such is the world we have created). The key point for 2014 is how many voting members of the new Yellen-led FOMC will follow her down the Keynesian cul-de-sac. Should a majority of the FOMC feel forced, in the national interest, to vote against an expansion of the Bernanke-era stimulus policies (which we believe Ms. Yellen is sure to propose), financial markets could be in for a severe shock.
Those who wish to continue equity investing in face of this risk might be well-advised to ensure they have adequate hedging policies in place. Investors in both equities and bonds must question how the Fed can coax a market into a continued boom in a manner disconnected from economic reality.
John Browne is a Senior Economic Consultant to Euro Pacific Capital. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific Capital, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.
It is rare that investors are given a road map. It is rarer still that the vast majority of those who get it are unable to understand the clear signs and directions it contains. When this happens the few who can actually read the map find themselves in an enviable position. Such is currently the case with gold and gold-related investments.
The common wisdom on Wall Street is that gold has seen the moment of its greatness flicker. This confidence has been fueled by three beliefs: A) the Fed will soon begin trimming its monthly purchases of Treasury and Mortgage Backed Securities (commonly called the “taper”), B) the growing strength of the U.S. economy is creating investment opportunities that will cause people to dump defensive assets like gold, and C) the renewed confidence in the U.S. economy will shore up the dollar and severely diminish gold’s allure as a safe haven. All three of these assumptions are false. (Our new edition of the Global Investor Newsletter explores how the attraction never dimmed in India).
Recent developments suggest the opposite, that: A) the Fed has no exit strategy and is more likely to expand its QE program than diminish it, B) the U. S. economy is stuck in below-trend growth and possibly headed for another recession C) America’s refusal to deal with its fiscal problems will undermine international faith in the dollar.
Parallel confusion can be found in Wall Street’s reaction to the debt ceiling drama (for more on this see my prior commentary on the Debt Ceiling Delusions). Many had concluded that the danger was that Congress would fail to raise the ceiling. But the real peril was that it would be raised without any mitigating effort to get in front of our debt problems. Of course, that is just what happened.
These errors can be seen most clearly in the gold market. Last week, Goldman Sachs, the 800-pound gorilla of Wall Street, issued a research report that many read as gold’s obituary.The report declared that any kind of agreement in Washington that would forestall an immediate debt default, and defuse the crisis, would be a “slam dunk sell” for gold. Given that most people never believed Congress would really force the issue, the Goldman final note to its report initiated a panic selling in gold. Of course, just as I stated on numerous radio and television appearances in the day or so following the Goldman report, the “smartest guys in the room” turned out to be wrong. As soon as Congress agreed to kick the can, gold futures climbed $40 in one day.
Experts also warned that the dollar would decline if the debt ceiling was not raised. But when it was raised (actually it was suspended completely until February 2014) the dollar immediately sold off to a 8 ½ month low against the euro. Ironically many feared that failing to raise the debt ceiling would threaten the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency. In reality, it’s the continued lifting of that ceiling that is undermining its credibility.
The markets were similarly wrong-footed last month when the “The Taper That Wasn’t” caught everyone by surprise. The shock stemmed from Wall Street’s belief in the Fed’s false bravado and the conclusions of mainstream economists that the economy was improving. I countered by saying that the signs of improvement (most notably rising stock and real estate prices) were simply the direct results of the QE itself and that a removal of the QE would stop the “recovery” dead in its tracks. Despite the Fed surprise, most people still believe that it is itching to pull the taper trigger and that it will do so at its earliest opportunity (although many now concede that it may have to wait until this political mess is resolved). In contrast, I believe we are now stuck in a trap of infinite QE (which is the theme of my Newsletter issued last week).
The reality is that Washington has now committed itself to a policy of permanent debt increase and QE infinity that can only possibly end in one way: a currency crisis. While the dollar’s status as reserve currency, and America’s position as both the world’s largest economy and its largest debtor, will create a difficult and unpredictable path towards that destination, the ultimate arrival can’t be doubted. The fact that few investors are drawing these conclusions has allowed gold, and precious metal mining stocks, to remain close to multi year lows, even while these recent developments should be signaling otherwise. This creates an opportunity.
Gold moved from $300 to $1,800 not because investors believed the government would hold the line on debt, but because they believed that the U.S. fiscal position would get progressively worse. That is what happened this week. By deciding to once again kick the can down the road, Washington did not avoid a debt crisis. They simply delayed it. That is why I tried to inform investors that gold should rally if the debt limit were raised.Instead most investors put their faith in Goldman Sachs.
Investors should be concluding that America will never deal with its fiscal problems on its own terms. In fact, since we have now redefined the problem as the debt ceiling, rather than the debt itself, all efforts to solve the real problem may be cast aside. It now falls on our nation’s creditors to provide the badly needed financial discipline that our own elected leaders lack the courage to face. That discipline will take the form of a dollar crisis, which will morph into a sovereign debt crisis. This would send U.S. consumer prices soaring, push the economy deeper into recession, and exert massive upward pressure on U.S. interest rates. At that point the Fed will have a very difficult decision to make: vastly expand QE to buy up all the bonds that the world is trying to unload (which could crash the dollar), or to allow bonds to fall and interest rates to soar (thereby crashing the economy instead).
The hard choices that our leaders have just avoided will have to be made someday under far more burdensome circumstances. It will have to choose which promises to keep and which to break. Much of the government will be shut down, this time for real. If the Fed does the wrong thing and expands QE to keep rates low, the ensuing dollar collapse will be even more damaging to our economy and our creditors. Sure, none of the promises will be technically broken, but they will be rendered meaningless, as the bills will be paid with nearly worthless money.
In fact, the Chinese may finally be getting the message. Late last week, as the debt ceiling farce gathered steam in Washington, China’s state-run news agency issued perhaps its most dire warning to date on the subject: “it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanized world.” Sometimes maps can be very easy to read. If the dollar is doomed, gold should rise.
- Ron Paul On the Never Ending QE Cycle (tradethenewsroom.com)
- Manipulated Markets Prospects: Gold, U.S. Dollar, Bonds, Equities & Interest Rates (silverdoctors.com)
Peter Schiff On The Debt Ceiling Delusions | Zero Hedge. (FULL ARTICLE)
Submitted by Peter Schiff via Euro Pacific Capital,
The popular take on the current debt ceiling stand-off is that the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has adelusional belief that it can hit the brakes on new debt creation without bringing on an economic catastrophe. While Republicans are indeed kidding themselves if they believe that their actions will not unleash deep economic turmoil, there are much deeper and more significant delusions on the other side of the aisle.Democrats, and the President in particular, believe that continually taking on more debt to pay existing debt is a more responsible course of action. Even worse, they appear to believe that debt accumulation is the equivalent of economic growth.
If Republicans were to inexplicably prevail, and the federal government were to cut spending so that its expenditures matched its tax revenues (a truly radical idea) the country’s financial mess would be laid bare. The government would have to weigh the relative costs and benefits of making interest payments on Treasury debt (primarily to foreign creditors) or to trim entitlements promised to U.S. citizens. But those are choices we will have to make sooner or later anyway. In fact we should have dealt with these issues years ago. But generations of mechanistic debt ceiling increases have allowed us to perpetually kick the can down the road. What could possibly be gained by doing it again, particularly if it is done with no commitment to change course?…
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- SchiffReport: Yellen Will Take the Fed in Dangerous Direction (silveristhenew.com)
- Peter Schiff: Fed Admits Economy is Fundamentally Weak (tradethenewsroom.com)
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- SchiffReport: Fed’s Non-Taper Damage Control (silveristhenew.com)
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- US GDP is a lie and inflation is going much higher claims Peter Schiff (planet.infowars.com)
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- Will German 2Q GDP Push the EURUSD Back Towards 1.3400? (forextv.com)
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- Italian GDP Beats Expectations in First Major Q2 Release from the Euro-Zone (forextv.com)
- Egypt’s political unrest causes regional concern – BBC News (bbc.co.uk)
- Ron Paul: New Egyptian War: Americans Lose, Again – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- The Ron Paul revoluton expands with a new online channel coming this summer (secretsofthefed.com)
Seth Klarman: “If The Economy Is So Fragile That Government Can’t Allow Failure Then We Are Indeed Close To Collapse” | Zero Hedge
- ZeroHedge: 20 Signs That The Next Great Economic Depression Has Already Started In Europe (silveristhenew.com)
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- The World Is Hoarding Alternative Money As Almost All Major Countries Are Going Through The Classic Stages of Economic Collapse (davidwhoward.wordpress.com)
- George Soros Knows: Another Economic Collapse is Coming (conservativeread.com)
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