Warnings in the News

Warnings in the News

The Great Recession has lasted so long that people do not remember inflation.  But, three recent statements, one from the meeting of the world’s central bankers, and two from the G20 Summit in China, ring the alarm bells warning us that inflation is on the way:

August 28, 2016 – JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. (Reuters) – Central bankers in charge of the vast bulk of the world’s economy delved deep into the weeds of money markets and interest rates over a three-day conference here, and emerged with a common plea to their colleagues in the rest of government: please help.

 In a lunch address by Princeton University economist Christopher Sims, policymakers were told that it may take a massive program, large enough even to shock taxpayers into a different, inflationary view of the future.

“Fiscal expansion can replace ineffective monetary policy at the zero lower bound,” Sims said. “It requires deficits aimed at, and conditioned on, generating inflation. The deficits must be seen as financed by future inflation, not future taxes or spending cuts.”

Translation:  We are going to spend our way to prosperity with inflation.

 September 4, 2016: U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed that both countries would “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes. at the G20 Summit held at the Hangzhou International Expo Center.

Translation:  We are going to lower the value of our currencies through inflation.

September 6, 2016: Leaders of the Group of 20 economies meeting at the Hangzhou International Expo Center pledged to use spending to improve infrastructure and the global economy.

Translation:  We are going to spend our way to prosperity with inflation.

In plain language, global economies are weak and weakening.  Governments can no longer stimulate their economies with lower interest rates, because they at or near zero.  They cannot afford to raise interest rates for fear of pushing us back into recession.  What can they do?

Inflation.  They are going to make money out of thin air and spend it to mollify their people.  At the same time, we will wiggle out of our mounting debts & Social Security obligations because inflation will let us pay in cheaper and cheaper dollars.

How will they do that?  Borrow money from themselves and spend it under the guise of “rebuilding infrastructure,” “investing in our future,” and “making America great again.”  So what if prices go up a year from now, and the year after that, etc.

Tax Reform will be like Robin Hood; tax the rich, give to the poor; “equality” and redistribution.  But it will not tax enough, or cut spending enough to balance the budget, or reduce the national debt.

Globally, it will be about which countries can inflate their currency faster to gain trade advantages, and reduce any debts they have from other nations.

Domestic inflation example:  You earn $100,000 per year and a house costs $250,000.  You borrow $200,000 to buy the house, and pay 25% of your income ($25,000) per year for your mortgage.

Suppose inflation doubles prices and wages.  Your salary might have to increase to $200,000 just to buy the same amount of food, gasoline, clothes etc. because prices have doubled.  You would be no better off in lifestyle, but your $250,000 house would be valued at $500,000.

However, your mortgage would still be $200,000.  You used to pay 25% of your $100,000 salary to cover the mortgage ($25,000 per year).  Now, $25,000 is only 12.5% of your $200,000 salary.  Inflation has cut your debt in half, as a percentage of your income.  And just look at the $300,000 of equity you have in your house!

Inflation would also lighten the government’s $1 trillion annual deficit s and $19 trillion national debt load and allow government to continue to borrow even more.

Think it cannot happen?  When I came to Texas in 1977, house prices were going up so fast that people were “flipping” homes like pancakes.  Of course, mortgage interest rates were double digit, and CD’s rates were too.  And federal debt jumped 17% that year.

Just look at the inflation we have experienced in the past.

The chart below shows 100 years of history.  The Consumer Price index (CPI-U) for January 1913 was 9.8.  The CPI-U for September 2013 was 234.149.  This means that something that cost $9.80 in January of 1913 would cost $234.15 today!

http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation/Cumulative_Inflation_by_Decade.asp

The average annual inflation rate in the 1940’s was 4.86% in the 1970’s it was 6.5% and the 1980’s was 13.5%. Each of those decades were especially hard economically for people trying to make ends meet while prices increased and wages didn’t keep up.

Perspective on Inflation

Inflation Unemployment Average Income Average House Multiple of Income 4yr College Multiple of Income
1960 1.4% 5.50% 5,200 16,500 3.17 8,000 1.5
1970 6.5% 3.50% 7,700 23,400 3.04 16,000 2.08
1980 13.5% 6.00% 16,700 64,600 3.87 30,000 1.80
1990 5.4% 5.60% 28,700 122,900 4.28 38,000 1.32
2000 3.4% 4.00% 41,500 169,000 4.07 47,000 1.13
2010 1.6% 9.60% 48,700 221,800 4.55 69,000 1.42
2015 0.5% 5.30% 53,700 296,200 5.52 78,000 1.45

 

This time, it looks like inflation could really hurt most people because wage increases and inflation adjustments for fixed income Social Security retirees probably will not keep up with rising prices.  That will make buying a home even more difficult, in that prices are already a bigger multiple of income than they have ever been.

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