The real worry is inflation

As investors realize the market's deflation phantoms aren't real, they'll notice a potentially fearful rise in inflation. That will give the bond market jitters.

By Bill_Fleckenstein Jan 18, 2013 3:09PM

Inflation © Nick Koudis/Getty ImagesEarlier this week, outgoing Eurogroup President Jean-Claude Juncker attempted to jawbone the euro lower when he said that, "the euro foreign-exchange rate is dangerously high."

 

So we now live in a world where not only are central banks intent on producing inflation, but the G-7 industrialized countries also all want their currencies lower. Paradoxically, the conclusion of the bond market is to worry about deflation when the logical result is inflation.

 

I, for one, think that game has ended. But the bond market certainly has not begun to factor in success of the central banks in debasing their currencies, or making them decline against the value of goods and services, something that has occurred even as the world has yapped about deflation.

 

Think of it as extra-mild deflation

On that score, an article by Anjli Raval in Wednesday's Financial Times headlined, "Labour shortage holds back builder Lennar" was most instructive. Raval began: "Lennar (LEN) said labour shortages and higher construction material and land costs were challenges for the US homebuilder even as it reported a surge in fourth-quarter earnings."

 

The writer went on to note, "The scarcity of construction labourers, as well as plumbers, electricians and carpenters among others that are the backbone of the residential construction industry, has resulted in projects facing delays . . . . The company said additional charges and higher prices for construction materials such as lumber, drywall and concrete had increased the average cost of building a new home by $1,600."

 

With housing at the epicenter of the economic debacle of the last few years, I ask you, is that what one would expect to see a major builder saying if we were experiencing unbridled deflation?

 

I have made the point many times that we haven't experienced deflation, but we have had a bear market in housing, though in some places and at some price points it has ended (keeping in mind, we could still have another leg down prospectively when interest rates rise).

 

Regular readers know I have been quite adamant about all roads leading to inflation, which is in part due to the fear of deflation. But how people can continue to beat the drum for the latter, given what is occurring across a broad front, including the housing market, I really don't know.

 

The 'mental' side of 'fundamentals'

Meanwhile, people need to remember that psychology (i.e., "money of the mind," as Jim Grant of Grant's Interest Rate Observer has named it) plays an important though not analyzable role in how folks perceive inflation, deflation and the purchasing power of their currencies.

 

They have been willing to overlook all sorts of cumulative inflation and currency abuse over the years as they have piled into bonds at ridiculously low rates. If I am right that the bond bull market has ended (as the deflation fear trade has), the next step would be toward pricing in "no deflation," then, ultimately, inflation.

 

If that psychology is in the process of changing, it will take some time, but it will be extremely powerful when the masses realize they need to do something and that they have been tricked into owning their third radically mispriced market in the past 15 years (equities, then real estate and now bonds).

 

Folks are going to lose gigantic amounts of money in bonds, as they did in our two bubbles, and, at some point, that may add a new group of buyers to the precious metals market. Unfortunately, those people who are the last to move into the metals market will find a fourth way to lose money, but that is getting way too far ahead of ourselves.

 

King World News

In my latest interview with Eric King, I was a bit more animated than usual, if I do say so myself. Interested readers can listen to it here.

 

At the time of publication, Bill Fleckenstein did not own or control shares of any company mentioned in this column in his personal portfolio.

121Comments
Jan 20, 2013 1:37PM
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Always ignore the wackos like Bill who come out with these extreme positions on anything. The world doesn't change all that much over time. What people see as change is really no more than movement. Essentially a drunk staggering down the side walk waiting to be flattened by one of Obama's homies when he tries to cross the street. 

Regarding our great leader, he'll accomplish nothing during his second term. His arrogant attitude and his "my way or the highway" approach will only further polarize the Republicans and Democrats. Nothing is worse than a sore loser but a sore winner. 

Presidents who have been leaders were men who were able to negotiate in a win-win way where both sides were able to realize some of their goals. All this character does is create bitterness and hostility. 


Jan 20, 2013 11:46AM
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When massive amounts of money is printed with nothing to back it up but huge debt, the end result can only be inflation. We cannot continue the printing, the borrowing, and the spending without some tangibility. The can has been kicked down the road just about as far as one can kick it without any real backlash. That backlash is coming and is an  inevitable domino effect of the current policies.  I believe 2014-2015 is going to be a seriously critical time for middle class individuals. A wake up call IS coming..only a matter of time.
Jan 20, 2013 11:41AM
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Bill Fleckenstein has been trumpeting imminent HYPERINFLATION since June 8, 2008 (CalculatedRIsk.com).  If I kept looking I'm sure I could find an earlier citation.

 

Gee Bill it's going on five years.  If you were handicapping football no one would care about your predictions any more.

Jan 20, 2013 7:32AM
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Non-defense spending causes inflation. Too much money chasing too few goods.
Jan 19, 2013 9:35PM
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Inflation? Is that all. Folks you better wish inflation was all that is going to happen. Ever hear of hyper inflation. That is exactly what is going to happen when this economy implodes. No entity can survive the debt this country has incurred and it is only going to increase 4 or 5 trillion more in the next 48 months. When you have to have a wheel barrow full of currency to purchase a loaf of bread you will understand what it is. Get ready for extremely hard times.
Jan 19, 2013 8:56PM
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Too many people spending too much money to get a college degree in something like 'far eastern comparative religions' that may make you a more rounded, better educated person but it doesn't have a financial future to justify the cost.  If you're looking for a future income stream you need to study technology (science, math, engineering, etc.) or learn a trade (electrician, plumber, etc.)  If your purpose in going to college is to prepare you for a future income stream, choose a course of study that has a financial future
Jan 19, 2013 8:10PM
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Bill why not keep barrowing and do it faster to see how long and how much the USA can get befor the s--t hits the fan???? You are right the end is coming!!
Jan 19, 2013 6:30PM
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Sounds like Wall Street is putting out the propaganda to butter everybody up before they cut and run with their small investors life savings. Then they will blame it on the liberals. Watch and see.

Jan 19, 2013 5:32PM
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Gold and inflation is all he wants to scare people with.Wouldn`t it be refreshing if

he could pick good stocks like me.I can sleep good with my picks.

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Doesn't anyone think it is a bad idea to keep their life savings in the hands of people the likes of those who have just cut their savings in half?

 

The wolves who fed off of us all after they lobbied enough to have deregulation enough to make billions of dollars directly from us for nothing but parasitic behavior???

 

Why would any thinking person...after that crash...hearing how it happened...STILL let those parasites feed off of them...their life savings rather.  Fill up the trough again????????????

 

Make your own decisions...Be in the present. Don't take advice from people who are making money off you...they seem to have unquenchable greed, and no Moral Compass. 

Jan 19, 2013 1:28PM
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Bill is always worried about inflation or deflation or who knows?

The Fed hasn't created any inflation by buying bonds or mortgage assets. What it has done is lower interest rates and in many case prevented businesses from going insolvent. For banks, it has helped recapitalize them by picking up some assets on their balance sheets. 

For the injection of reserves into the banking system to create inflation, their has to be lots of demand for goods and service and easy credit. If you look at the weak GDP numbers, it is obvious that the economy is very weak and fragile. There have been some positive signs from housing lately and the job market continues to slowly improve.

The housing debacle is a good example of rapid inflation fueled by easy money and credit for everyone! The decline in housing prices just brought prices back down to reasonable levels, and in many areas of the country, prices didn't increase all that much. So if your house is worth less than what you paid for it, you paid too much for it sucka! 

The really big deal in the crisis was foreclosures or people who couldn't foot their obligations. This problem is split between banks who didn't practice sound lending policies (sub-prime loans) and people who borrowed money they had no hope of repaying. 

Getting back to the Fed, one day it will have to sterilize all of its bond and other asset buying, by selling those assets and reclaiming those reserves. Depending upon how it is done, this may drive  bond prices down and yields up. I guess bond holders will have capital losses along with their puny coupon (of course new buyers will have higher yields). What ever price increases in housing prices will remain modest compared to the last boom in housing simply because the economy doesn't show any signs of going gangbusters for years to come. Also don't forget all the overhang in foreclosures on the market. 

So what is an investor to do. It ain't too difficult to figure out Jose. With inflation comes a weaker dollar or one that buys less here and elsewhere. Gold will probably be an OK investment, but I have never liked precious metals mainly its an unproductive investment and its appeal is based upon emotions. 

The best place for money in ANY market environment our stocks, but not just any old stocks. They have to be companies that make or do stuff that people need. That means growing revenues and earnings. These are productive assets that can always demand more for what they do. In short they keep up with inflation. 

Mean while you jokers aren't going to make any money due to your inability to comprehend any thing beyond your noses. I can just imagine you buying and selling based upon your wacked out views of the market and economy. You had better reserve a place at the table of the Salvation Army.

Har har har - it's wonderful to be me and horrible to be you!
Jan 19, 2013 1:25PM
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Government says our national debt is 16.4 trillion but what they don't want you to know is that it's really close to 100 trillion....Can you say "bankruptcy"...hahaha  Hope you morons who voted for Obama are happy now that your taxes are going up and medical premiums will double.
Jan 19, 2013 11:18AM
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My we are knee deep in it here. Yes we will eventually cycle into higher interests rates, and that will provide new market opportunities such as bonds with a yield rate you might even want and a boost to stocks. But history has told us their are limits to these things, first off wages and the pricing flexibility of goods and services provide  very real limits to inflation. Imagine if inflation was magically 6% next week, will wages keep pace   no    so prices cant keep pace   so inflation with the help of the fed would come back down to the 3 % range quickly.    Is inflation an issue in the future   yes     is it the end of the world    no         So lets keep all the black helicopter fantasies put away where they belong. Lenar having trouble finding employees quick enough in growth markets doesn't mean anything, when companies are in a growth cycle they always have staffing issues, its like itching and dandruff they just go together.

 

 

Jan 19, 2013 11:18AM
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     Prices of things never have dropped. What DID happen was that we've kept paying for what we are getting. Here's how it worked. You can now go to walmart and buy a chinese made lawn sprinkler for $6.99 which is pretty cheap. The problem is that the cheap $6.99 lawn sprinkler is only going to last you about a week. In order for you to buy a lawn sprinkler that will last you for years, you'll have to spend $50.00 to $100.00 for it and thats quite a bit more than you paid 25 to 30 years ago for it . Prices havn't stayed the same or declined but the quality of goods sure has taken a dump. How many plastic faucets did you see in your house 40 years ago?                                                                                                                
Jan 19, 2013 10:27AM
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Living on a fixed income causes me to worry about inflation..

When everything cost more I don't have as much money to spend..

That means I have to cut back on food, fuel, Dr. visits, electric and natural gas usage..

Medicine and many other things not listed here...FYI

Think This would worry ANY American..But Don't count on Ben at the FED..HE  Don't Care..!

Jan 19, 2013 10:25AM
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Can't wait to see King Barry's face on the $50,000 bill

Jan 19, 2013 10:20AM
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Inflation, which Fleck has already pointed out, is almost entirely produced these days by the Fed printing massive amounts of money.  It’s effectively an additional tax on savers and investors because it devalues the purchasing power of their money. It also translates into real taxes when assets are transferred because it creates phantom nominal gains which are taxed as income.

Imagine the hypocrisy of a government that tells everyone they must take responsibility to save for their retirement, and then prevents them from having a safe way of doing it by manipulating the monetary system. That’s the system we are plagued with today in the good ol’ USA.  You can’t have a sound economy without a reliable monetary base. But, the Fed under the guidance of its Wall Street masters is doing everything in its power to destroy that base. 

Jan 19, 2013 9:03AM
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Inflation is termed a stealth tax.  Keynesian policy followers ignore a link in what is actually part of the equation.  Keynes actually loathed inflation.  He realized it meant utter destruction in the form of monetary exchange, in our case the dollar.  The stealth tax steals from savers and redistributes to non saver entities ie; government.  The banking world knows what is going on, they have the ability to borrow at 0%, loan at 5% and pay the private investor (savers at 1%).  Moreover the banking mortgage market has avoided leveraging in the housing market by still selling mortgages to fannie / freddie and offering 2.5% 30 year plans.  Guess who will eventually gets creamed when this unfolds.....

Higher taxes at all levels will surpass consuming 50% of working middle class wages in the next couple of years.  When the people wake up and realize this, the party will be well underway and the hang over will be unpleasant.    

Jan 19, 2013 8:49AM
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Inflation is the enemy, manipulated monetary policy and keynesian policy for decades has set up our current modern world for a financial blood bath party.  Owning precious metals have some protection but the back drop and unfolding will be cruel.  In retirement for several years a gentleman told me his income has fallen 2 / 3 from 2006 / 07.  Returns on his money funds leaves his portfolio income devastated.  He lost nearly all his so called "safe" investments in 2009.  Inflation is, has and will continue to crush savers, it has caused all government levels to be short of money for operations.  Taxes must be increased due to a lower dollar value and inflationary trends in goods and services.  While the "official" government indicator tells the sheeple inflation is low, realize this simple fact: the dollar has lost more than 1 / 4 of its purchasing power since the turn of the century.  Hyperinflation is slow to start but after it begins all efforts to end it will be futile.  I could give many more reasons why this will unfold badly, instead I will pray.   

Jan 19, 2013 8:24AM
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The Japanese have experienced deflation (price declines) for 15 years ... and the people like it!  They have a high savings rate, and they are used to not having automatic pay increases (when prices decline, you don't need "cost of living" adjustments).

But ... the government and the central bank don't like stable or declining prices - so the Bank of Japan is raising its inflation target from 1% to 2% (i.e. - they are going to start monetizing their debt like the United States is doing).

See: 

More than 80 percent of respondents in a released this month who noticed rising prices last year said it was bad. More than a third of those who said prices fell were happy about it. Even so, the BOJ next week will adopt the government’s desired 2 percent inflation target, according to 21 of 23 economists surveyed by .

Ending consumer price declines would give companies and households more incentive to borrow, and boost revenue for businesses and the government in a nation that saw its in 2012. The danger: prolonged deflation has altered behavior across the economy, from entrenching declines in pay to driving more than . ..."

That's a pretty blatant admission - inflation gives people the incentive to borrow (become servants to debt), and less incentive to save.

Furthermore - people like declining prices.

So - an economy has done just fine for 15 years of deflation - and the people like it.  Who doesn't like it?  Banks lose loan business, and government can't monetize their debt by the hidden inflation tax.

It is pretty clear who dominates American monetary policy - government and Goldman-Sachs (and the banking peers of Goldman-Sachs).

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ABOUT BILL FLECKENSTEIN

Image: Bill Fleckenstein, MSN money

This column is a synopsis of Bill Fleckenstein's daily column on his website, FleckensteinCapital.com, which he's been writing on the Internet since 1996. Click here to find Fleckenstein's most recent articles.

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