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.