Watch special video below of David Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff & Associates, discussing the inflation vs. deflation debate. This powerful presentation was filmed at the Strategic Investment Conference 2011 in La Jolla, CA.
41 posts tagged with “Deflation”.
The CPI was out this week, and it showed a continued drop in inflation. There were those who immediately pointed out that this vindicated the Fed’s move to QE2. We have to get ahead of this deflation thing, don’t we? Well, maybe, depending on how you measure inflation/deflation. This week we look deep into the BLS website on inflation to see just exactly what it is we are measuring, and then take a walk down Nostalgia Lane. But first we look at what I think we can call The Sputtering Economy, because that will tie into our inflation discussion.
This week the Fed altered their end-of-meeting statement by just a few words, but those words have a lot of meaning. It seems they are paving the way to a new round of quantitative easing (QE2), if in their opinion the situation warrants it. A trillion dollars of new money could soon be injected into the system. Tonight we explore some of the implications of a new round of QE. Let's put our speculation hats on, gentle reader, as we are moving into uncharted territory. There are no maps, just theories, and they don't all agree. (Note: this letter may print a little long, as there are a lot of charts.)
But first, as a reminder, next Wednesday, September 29 (9:00 AM PST/12:00 PM EST), I will be doing a special "webinar" with Jon Sundt, President & CEO of Altegris Investments, where we'll discuss the forces that are shaping today's economy and their potential influence on financial markets (the very things I write about in this week's letter and in my new book!). This is an excellent opportunity to learn about alternative investment strategies designed to provide noncorrelated diversification for your investment portfolio in the "new normal" economy. We'll set aside a lot of time to answer your questions.
A replay of the call will be available for two weeks starting Thursday, September 30, for registered participants only. Even if you can't make it at this specific time, I recommend you still register so you can listen to the replay at your convenience after the event.
You can register by going to www.accreditedinvestor.ws and signing up for my free accredited letter, and a representative from Altegris will call you to give you the details. Sadly, this is available only to accredited investors ($1.5 million net worth and up) and/or registered financial professionals, due to current regulations. I will be giving a preview of the conclusions from my new book, The End Game, which I think you will find interesting. (In this regard, I am president and a registered representative of Millennium Wave Securities, LLC, member FINRA.)
The debate over whether we are in for inflation or deflation was alive and well at the Agora Symposium in Vancouver this this week. It seems that not everyone is ready to join the deflation-first, then-inflation camp I am currently resident in. So in this week's letter we look at some of the causes of deflation, the elements of deflation, if you will, and see if they are in ascendancy. For equity investors, this is an important question because, historically, periods of deflation have not been kind to stock markets. Let's come at this week's letter from the side, and see if we can sneak up on some answers.
Even on the road (and maybe especially on the road, as I get more free time on airplanes) I keep up with my rather large reading habit. This week, the theme in various publications was the lack of available credit for small businesses, with plenty of anecdotal evidence. This goes along with the surveys by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which continue to show a difficult credit market.
Businesses are being forced to scramble for needed investments, generally having to make do with cash flow and working out of profits. This is an interesting quandary for government policy makers, as 75% of the "rich" that will see the Bush tax cuts go away are small businesses.
There was a great graphic (that I now cannot find) showing that all net new jobs of the past two decades have come from small businesses and start-ups. And yet as of now, when structural employment is over 10% (if you count those who were considered to be in the work force just a few months ago), we want to reduce the availability of revenues to the very people we want to be hiring new workers, and who are cash-starved as it is.
It is not just that taxes will go from 35% to just under 40%. It is the increase in Medicare taxes coming down the pike, too. We are taking money from private hands, where it has the potential to increase productivity, and putting it into government hands, where it will do nothing for growth of the economy. There is no multiplier for government spending. And tax increases reduce potential GDP by a multiplier of at least 1 and maybe 3, depending on which study you want to cite.
I understand that taxes have to go up. I get it. But we would be better off having a discussion of where we want to tax dollars to come from before we risk hurting an economy that will barely be growing at 2% in the 4th quarter, and may be well below that. It is the increase in taxes that has me concerned about a double-dip recession.
That being said, the announcement by several prominent Democratic senators that they think we should extend the Bush tax cuts is significant. As I said a few weeks ago, we should not experience a double-dip recession absent policy mistakes. A slow-growth world, yes. But an actual double dip is rare.
If Congress were to extend the Bush tax cuts for at least a year, until the presidential commission on taxes is done with its work and THEN have the debate, it would make me far more optimistic. And it would be quite bullish for stocks, I think. Businesses would know how to plan, at least, for a year, and the economy would be given more time to actually recover. I am not ready to channel my inner Larry Kudlow, but from what we see this summer it would make me more optimistic and reduce the chances of a double-dip recession significantly.
I have been writing about The End Game for some time now. And writing a book of the same title. Consequently, I have been thinking a lot about how the credit crisis evolved into the sovereign debt crisis, and how it all ends. Today we explore a few musings I have had of late, while we look at some very interesting research. What will a world look like as a variety of nations have to deal with the end of their Debt Supercycle. We'll jump right in with no "but first's" this week.
Part of this week's writing is colored by my next conference. Next week I go to Vancouver to speak at the Agora Investment Symposium. I have a number of very good friends who will be there, both speaking and attending. This is generally a "hard money," gold-bug-type crowd (and a very large conference). Some (but not all) of the speakers believe that all fiat currencies, including the US dollar, will default in one way or another, either outright or through inflation, as mounting debts and out-of-control entitlement obligations force large-scale monetization, leading to high inflation if not hyperinflation.
There are a couple of panels and debates that I presume I will be involved in, and I have been meditating on how the panels will go. Bill Bonner, founder of Agora and a book-writing machine, has a steel-trap mind with an ability to turn a phrase that is way beyond that of your humble analyst. The preponderance of the panel members will likely be in the soft-depression camp, and most of us will card-carrying members of the Often Wrong but Seldom in Doubt school of economics and investing (the Latin for which, I am told, is "Saepe mendosus, nunquam dubius.") And yet, I am not quite there with most of that thinking, so the debates will be lively.
Understand, I started in the newsletter business back in 1981 or so, working with Dr. Gary North (also known as "Scary Gary"). Gary is an Austrian, and although I took a lot of economics courses at Rice, I had never read anything even remotely close to the Austrian school. I caught up rather quickly, and in the mid-1980s even wrote my own gold-stock newsletter (although I must admit I know next to nothing of the current gold-stock world). I was mostly limited to books, newsletters, and journals for reading material.
Then came the mid '90s and the internet, and the world opened up. I became incurably addicted to information and read widely and deeply. At some point the small lens of Austrian thought became difficult to continue to peer through, as I looked for perspectives on the larger world. I now worship at a number of economic altars, in the ongoing effort to understand what is happening in the real world, not just in the world of theory or the world of what we would like to be. So, with that background, let's look at The End Game.
When I was at Rice University, so many decades ago, I played a lot of bridge. I was only mediocre, but enjoyed it. We had a professor, Dr. Culbertson, who was a bridge Life Master at an early age. He was single and lived in our college, playing bridge with us almost every night. He was a master of the "end game." He had an uncanny ability to seemingly force his opponents into no-win situations, understanding where the cards had to lie and taking advantage.
Traveling to London and on into Europe, I have some time to think away from the tyranny of the computer. Over the last year, and especially the last few months, I have written in depth about the problems we face all across the developed world. We have no good choices left, so making the correct unpleasant choice is now our most hopeful option.
As I wrote in my 2010 forecast, this year is a waiting game. There are so many choices we must make, and the paths we will take from those choices vary wildly. But make no mistake, we are coming close to the end game. Some countries and economies are closer to that point than others, but the entire developed world is lurching, in almost drunken fashion, towards our economic denouement.
Over the next several months, we are going to start to explore various aspects of the end game. Whither Japan? Are they actually, as I think, a bug in search of a windshield? What does that mean for the world? How safe is the euro? Everyone over here seems to think Germany will bail out Greece. A breakup seems unthinkable to the people I've been talking to (so far). But what about Spain? Italy? Can you spell moral hazard?
The Fed has said it will exit quantitative easing (QE) at the end of March. But what if mortgage rates rise? Where do we find $1 trillion (plus!!!) in US savings to fund the deficit, assuming foreigners buy about $400 billion? By definition, savings and foreign investment and the federal deficit must add up to zero. (We will go into that later - just take it as gospel for now.) How can we run 10% of GDP deficits if the Fed does not print money (as they did by buying Fannie and Freddie paper, which became treasuries, as I outlined last week)? That would require almost a 10% savings rate - with it all ending up in treasuries. How can that happen? Really?
What's a Fed to do? We get talk about tightening and taking away the easy credit, but we got the fourth largest monetization on record last week. This week we examine the elements of deflation, look at some banking statistics that are not optimistic, and then I write a reply to my great friend Bill Bonner about why it's the best of times to be young. I think you will get a few thought-provoking ideas here and there.
But before we get to the main letter, I want to recommend a book to you. I am on a 17-day, 12-city speaking tour. It is rather brutal, but I did it to myself. However, one of the upsides of traveling is that I get quiet time on airplanes to read books. I am working my way through a very large stack of books on my desk. One that caught my eye - and I'm glad it did - is a book by Tom Hayes called Jump Point: How Network Culture is Revolutionizing Business. Hayes writes about how we are getting ready to experience a cultural change every bit as profound as the Industrial Revolution. He argues that as the 3 billionth person gets online sometime in 2011, it will shift the dynamic of how we interact as businesses and consumers. We get to 5 billion by 2015. The mind boggles.
Clearly, it is already changing things, and I am not sure if I buy Hayes' thesis that 3 billion is a magical number, though it is great marketing. That being said, I found something on almost every page that I underlined or highlighted. This book made me think about the future in ways that my kids already get but Dad doesn't.
I like to read books about "important stuff" by people who have done a lot of thinking about their subjects, and who can write easily and fluidly and communicate their thoughts without weighing me down with unnecessary verbiage. Hayes has done that. (I am sure some of you, my patient readers, wish I could be better at that!)
Peggy Noonan, maybe the most gifted essayist of our time, wrote a few weeks ago about the vague concern that many of us have that the monster looming up ahead of us has the potential (my interpretation) for not just plucking a few feathers from the goose that lays the golden egg (the US free-market economy), or stealing a few more of the valuable eggs, but of actually killing the goose. Today we look at the possibility that the fiscal path of the enormous US government deficits we are on could indeed kill the goose, or harm it so badly it will make the lost decades that Japan has suffered seem like a stroll in the park.
And while I do not think we will get to that point (though I can't deny the possibility), for reasons I will go into, there is the very real prospect that the upheavals created by not dealing proactively with the problems (or denying they exist) will be as bad as or worse than the credit crisis we have gone through. This is not going to be something that happens overnight, and the seeming return to normalcy that so many predict has the rather alarming aspect of creating a sense of complacency that will only serve to "kick the can" down the road.
This week we look at the problem, and then muse upon what the more likely scenarios are that may play out. This is a longer version of a speech I gave this morning to the New Orleans Conference, where I also offered a path out of the problems. This letter will be a little more controversial than normal, but I hope it makes us all think about the very serious plight we have put ourselves in.
Let's review a few paragraphs I wrote last month: "I have seven kids. As our family grew, we limited the choices our kids could make; but as they grew into teenagers, they were given more leeway. Not all of their choices were good. How many times did Dad say, 'What were you thinking?' and get a mute reply or a mumbled 'I don't know.'
This week we continue to look at what powers the forces of deflation. As I continue to stress, getting the fundamental question answered correctly is the most important issue we face going forward. And the problem is that we cannot use the usual historical comparisons. This week we look at one more factor: bank lending. I give you a sneak preview of what will be an explosive report from Institutional Risk Analytics about the problems in the banking sector. Are you ready for the FDIC to be down as much as $400 billion? This should be an interesting, if sobering, letter.
But first, Dennis Gartman and Greg Weldon will be joining me next week for another Conversation with John Mauldin. This is my subscription service where I sit down with my friends and let you eavesdrop on our conversations (we also transcribe them). Dennis and Greg are two of the premier traders and data mavens in the world, and we will be all over the world of commodities, currencies, and the markets. I can tell you, it will be one exciting conversation for me.
It won't be too long before it will be time to do another Geopolitical Conversation with George Friedman. George and I are doing a conversation quarterly, and right now it is a bonus if you subscribe to Conversations with John Mauldin, but the plan is to offer it separately for $59. Now, here is the important part: all current subscribers and anyone who subscribes now will receive these Geopolitical Conversations free, as a thank you. If you have not yet subscribed, you can do so and receive a discount by clicking the link and typing in the code JM49 to subscribe for $149. This is a large discount from our regular price of $199; plus, we are including the bonus Geopolitical Conversations that are worth $59. And now, to the regular letter.
Just as water is formed by the basic elements hydrogen and oxygen, deflation has its own fundamental components. Last week we started exploring those elements, and this week we continue. I feel that the most fundamental of decisions we face in building investment portfolios is correctly deciding whether we are faced with inflation or deflation in our future. (And I tell you later on when to worry about inflation.) Most investments behave quite differently depending on whether we are in a deflationary or inflationary environment. Get this answer wrong and it could rise up to bite you.
The problem is that there is not an easy answer. In fact, the answer is that it could be both. Today I got another letter from Peter Schiff, who seems to be ubiquitous. He says the rise in gold is because of rising inflation expectations among investors. Gold is predicting inflation. Maybe, but the correlation between gold and inflation for the last 25-plus years has been zero. I rather think that gold is rising in terms of value against most major fiat (paper) currencies because it is seen as a neutral currency. The Fed and the Obama administration seem to be pursuing policies that are dollar-negative, and they give no hint of letting up. The rise in gold above $1,000 does not really tell us anything about the future of inflation.
In fact, it is my belief that if the Fed were to withdraw from the scene of economic battle, the forces of deflation would be felt in short order. The answer to the question "Will we have inflation in our future?" is "You better hope so!"
I wrote in 2003, when Greenspan was holding down rates too long in order to spur the economy, that the best outcome or endgame over the course of the full cycle would be stagflation. I still think that is the most likely scenario. The Fed will fight deflation and knows how to do that. They also know what to do when inflation becomes too high. But there is a cost.