That's not a typo in the title. Because there's a con game going on. It's the con that the threat is imminent deflation.
In his weekly Emailed commentary today, the well-known financial man John Mauldin differentiates between good and bad deflation. In the category of the latter, he quotes insufficient demand.
You know things are loony when an American can look around him, see the obesity epidemic, and with a straight literary face, cite insufficient demand!
Let's also see-- one vehicle per capita; 20 times as much oil used per capita as in India, etc.
Excess commercial real estate and by world standards double or triple as much residential real estate as is really needed.
And so on. Some insufficiency of demand.
What ties many financial people together in their wails that we need to fear collapsing prices is that they benefit from money printing. One reason for this is obvious: more money in the financial system means more assets under management. Another reason is subtler, and relates to Uncle Warren Buffett's parable of the Gotrocks family. In this story, a family with money keeps getting sold on making the management of their savings more and more complicated, with the only winners being the financial community. Thus, if the Government were to start paying off its debts, there would a simpler system, and thus less reason for the great unwashed to pay financial types fees to invest their money.
Mr. Mauldin is on the more conservative side of the spectrum, so his major point is to keep the Bush tax cuts. Presumably he will do well with that personally, and so will his clients. Others such as Nouriel Roubini always pound the drums for eternal depression, and their solution is greater government spending.
Neither of those camps address the overriding problem of creating a stable financial system. If society wants Sweden or wants Hong Kong, it can have either, but it can't have Swedish social benefits (plus war in Eastasia) with a Hong Kong-level of Federal income (14% of GDP at latest count). Continuing the giant deficits is great for financial types and keeps the Roubini Global Economics business thriving as well.
On the other side of the financial sea from debt-based finance and money printing is gold. The media is all over that one. Barron's is out today with the Abelson article titled A Contrarian's View of Gold.
The "contrarian" works not for some small contrarian enterprise in Nowheresville, but rather for the globe-girdling Bank Credit Analyst. No evidence in the article indicates why this gentleman is called a contrarian at all. The article goes so far as to point out that the negative view on gold that Mr. Berezin espouses is not contrarian at all. To wit:
. . .he gets some support from Barclays Capital's latest commodity forecasts, which sees gold averaging $1,195 an ounce this year, $1,180 next year, $1,010 in 2012 and $850 for "the long-term."
Oh, those wild-eyed crazies at Barclays! Always taking the non-consensus point of view (NOT).
Why is Mr. Berezin negative on gold? Because he expects:
1) An increase in real interest rates, which he feels are bound to rise as the global economy continues to recover.
2) A decline in inflation expectations. Disinflation, he notes, is "gold's archenemy" and, he believes, over the next few years, deflation is the biggest risk.
We should stop right here. What actually happened to real interest rates in the U. S. at least in the Ponzi boom of 2005-7/8 was that real interest rates dropped to zero as inflation surged to at least 5%. In fact, a sign that the boom was built on sand was in fact that the economy could not even tolerate truly restrictive interest rates, unlike the economy of 1980-2. So his idea that real interest rates will rise with a boom is unlikely, given tattered balance sheets all over. Re inflation expectations, well he's a better man than anyone else if he is suggesting you invest on what expectations will be. Predicting facts is hard enough; expectations are second derivative stuff.
He also sees:
. . . the greenback as "among the best houses in a bad neighborhood" that, over time, will strengthen against the euro and the yen, sparking a reassertion of the negative trend between bullion and the trade-weighted dollar index.
My view is different. It is in line with Bill Fleckenstein, and certain bloggers such as Econophile, who see money printing and stagflation as reasonably likely.
The powers that run America financially are great powers. They say that they will do everything they can to make sure that deflation does not take root here. With the lowest short term rates in America and globally in history and 3% Treasury rates despite massive supply, you can expect either a strong economy to put all the monetary stimulus waiting in reserve to start stimulating pricing power and/or more money printing to purchase more financial assets, some of which new money will filter out to the real economy.
What would really be bad for gold, as it was 30 years ago, would be true tight money policies, plus a revival of pro-entrepreneurial policies. Since these are not likely to be forthcoming from Washington any time soon, it makes sense to resist the growing media pressure from multiple sides of the economic-political spectrum that deflation is a serious threat and prepare for a resumption of something like 2003-7.
And to be aware that as in that era, the defining characteristic was a crash.
I suspect that another crash is coming. I just don't know when.
Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2010