Tag Archive: hyper-inflation


Source: SFGate

For the first time since 2008, inflation is hitting consumers in the stomach.

Grocery prices grew by more than 1 1/2 times the overall rate of inflation this year, outpaced only by costs of transportation and medical care, according to numbers released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists predict that this is only the beginning. Fueled by the higher costs of wheat, sugar, corn, soybeans and energy, shoppers could see as much as a 4 percent increase at the supermarket checkout next year.

“I noticed just this month that my grocery bill for the same old stuff – cereal, eggs, milk, orange juice, peanut butter, bread – spiked $25,” said Sue Perry, deputy editor of ShopSmart magazine, a nonprofit publication from Consumer Reports. “It was a bit of sticker shock.”

But it makes sense. Since November 2009, meat, poultry, fish and eggs have surged 5.8 percent in price. Dairy and related products have gone up 3.8 percent; fats and oils, 3 percent; and sugar and sweets, 1.2 percent.

While overall inflation nationwide was 1.1 percent, grocery prices went up 1.7 percent nationally and 1.3 percent in the Bay Area, said Todd Johnson, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics office in San Francisco. “The largest effects on grocery prices here over the last month were tomatoes, followed by eggs, fish and seafood.”

Produce steady

Across the country, the price of produce has remained fairly steady. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that next year the price of fruits and vegetables, like many other food commodities, could go up. The government agency is forecasting a 2 to 3 percent food inflation rate in 2011 – a pace that is not unusual in a rebounding economy.

“We usually err on the conservative side,” said Ephraim Leibtag, a senior economist with the USDA, adding that “2011 holds a bit of uncertainty, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes higher. If it goes to 6 percent, then we should be worried.”

Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo, said that as long as corn, soybean and energy prices continue to climb, food inflation could reach 4 percent in 2011.

“The USDA always plays it safe,” he said, adding that the nation is likely to see the biggest increases since 2008, when the food inflation rate was a record 5.5 percent.

The global demand for corn – used for food and ethanol – has swelled so much that feed costs for farmers and ranchers are being passed on to the consumer, Swanson said.

Gas, diesel play a role

Gas and diesel prices also are playing a role. Wheat costs went through the roof this year when 20 percent of Russia’s crop was destroyed by drought and wildfires, causing the country, the third-largest producer in the world, to ban exports of the grain. The price of sugar, also used for ethanol in parts of the world, is priced at a two-decade high.

Kraft Foods Inc., one of the world’s largest food producers, has already announced plans to increase its prices because of mounting ingredient costs and flagging sales. General Mills, maker of everything from flour and baking mixes to cereal and Yoplait yogurt, has said it, too, will raise some of its product prices in January. Experts said consumers can expect the same from Kellogg’s and Nestle.

The silver lining, Swanson said, is that retailers such as major supermarket chains and big-box stores are likely to push back at wholesalers to keep prices from jumping too much.

“Food is a high-frequency driver,” he said. “So if stores like Walmart and Kmart want to get shoppers in the door, it’s to their benefit to keep prices low.”

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Source: Bloomberg

Cooking oils, left behind in this year’s surge in agriculture prices, are poised to catch up with grains as record demand cuts stockpiles by the most in 17 years.

Inventories of soybean oil and palm oil, used by Nestle SA and Unilever and in everything from Hellmann’s mayonnaise to Snickers candy bars, will drop 12 percent in the coming year as China and India increase consumption 11 percent, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show. Food prices climbed in September to the highest level since the crisis in 2008 that sparked riots from Haiti to Egypt, the United Nations says.

“China’s economy is growing and there’s no reason why the country will take any less food next week, next month, or next year,” said Steve Nicholson, a commodity procurement specialist at International Food Products Corp., a distributor and adviser on food ingredients in Fenton, Missouri. “We’ve been able to produce more food in the past 2,000 years, but can we do it fast enough to meet the demand from China and other emerging economies to stave off a crisis?”

Increasing wealth in Brazil, India and China is boosting demand for grains, dairy, meat and cooking oils. While Sime Darby Bhd., the world’s biggest listed palm-oil producer, is benefiting from rising prices, governments from Beijing to New Delhi are trying to curb food inflation by raising imports, limiting exports or selling stockpiles. Per-capita use of vegetable oils in China has more than doubled in a decade, said Bill Nelson, a senior economist at Doane Advisory Services Co., an agricultural research and advisory company in St. Louis.

Farm Costs Soar

The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Agriculture Index of eight futures climbed 30 percent this year, led by corn, wheat, coffee and cotton, as floods in Canada, Pakistan and China and drought in Russia and across Europe killed crops. The economies of China and India, the biggest consumers of cooking oils, are growing at three times the speed of the U.S.

Water scarcity, increasing global temperatures and the potential for dry weather may threaten farm production, said Nomura Holdings Inc. economists and strategists including Robert Subbaraman in a report dated Sept. 8. About 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, according to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization.

The CRB/Reuters U.S. Spot Raw Industrials index, a gauge of 22 commodities including butter and soybean oil, rose to an all- time high on Oct. 25. Meat prices advanced to a two-decade high in August, according to a UN index.

Food Demand

Record demand for food and biofuel may combine with delays to planting in South America to extend gains in cooking oils, said Murali Krishna P.V., chief executive officer of TransGraph Consulting Pvt., an adviser to Bunge Ltd. and Cadbury Plc.

Palm oil traded on the Malaysia Derivatives Exchange may rise 18 percent to 3,600 ringgit ($1,161) a metric ton by March, extending this year’s 15 percent advance, said Murali, based on the Oct. 29 close. Soybean oil traded on the Chicago Board of Trade may gain 16 percent to 57 cents a pound, adding to this year’s 21 percent rally, he said in an interview from Hyderabad, India. Palm oil advanced 1 percent today to end at 3,092 ringgit per ton, the highest finish since July 2008.

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Source: Zero Hedge

John Williams, arguably one of the best trackers of real, unmanipulated government data via his Shadow Stats blog, has just released a note to clients in which he warns that hyperinflation may hit as soon as 6 to 9 months from today. With so many established economists and pundits seeing nothing but deflation as far as the eye can see, and the Fed doing all in its power to halt the deleveraging cycle, both in the open and shadow economies, what is Williams’ argument? Read on. Incidentally, even if some fellow bloggers disagree with Mr. Williams’ assesment, we believe it is in our readers’ best interest to have them make up their own mind on this most critical economic development.

SUMMARY OUTLOOK

Systemic Turmoil is Unthinkable, Unacceptable but Unavoidable.  Pardon the use of the Aerosmith lyrics in the opening headers, but the image of tap-dancing on a land mine pretty much describes what the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Government have been doing in order to prevent a systemic collapse in the last couple of years.  Now, as business activity sinks anew, much expanded supportive measures will be needed to maintain short-term systemic stability.  Such official actions, however, in combination with global perceptions of limited U.S. fiscal flexibility, likely will trigger massive flight from the U.S. dollar and force the Federal Reserve into heavy monetization of otherwise unwanted U.S. Treasury debt.  When that land mine explodes — probably within the next six-to-nine months, the onset of a U.S. hyperinflation will be in place, with severe economic, social and political consequences that will follow.  The Hyperinflation Special Report is referenced for broad background.  The general outlook is not changed. 

What does this mean for US financial markets? (take a wild guess)

In these circumstances, the financial markets likely will be highly unstable and volatile.  Looking at the longer term, strategies aimed at preserving wealth and assets continue to make sense.  For those who have their assets denominated in U.S. dollars, physical gold and silver remain primary hedges, as do stronger currencies such as the Canadian and Australian dollars and the Swiss franc.  Holding assets outside the U.S. also may have some benefits.

Source: Shadow Stats, where the full piece can be located

Source: Telegraph

As they prepare for holiday reading in Tuscany, City bankers are buying up rare copies of an obscure book on the mechanics of Weimar inflation published in 1974.

Ebay is offering a well-thumbed volume of “Dying of Money: Lessons of the Great German and American Inflations” at a starting bid of $699 (shipping free.. thanks a lot).

The crucial passage comes in Chapter 17 entitled “Velocity”. Each big inflation — whether the early 1920s in Germany, or the Korean and Vietnam wars in the US — starts with a passive expansion of the quantity money. This sits inert for a surprisingly long time. Asset prices may go up, but latent price inflation is disguised. The effect is much like lighter fuel on a camp fire before the match is struck.

People’s willingness to hold money can change suddenly for a “psychological and spontaneous reason” , causing a spike in the velocity of money. It can occur at lightning speed, over a few weeks. The shift invariably catches economists by surprise. They wait too long to drain the excess money.

“Velocity took an almost right-angle turn upward in the summer of 1922,” said Mr O Parsson. Reichsbank officials were baffled. They could not fathom why the German people had started to behave differently almost two years after the bank had already boosted the money supply. He contends that public patience snapped abruptly once people lost trust and began to “smell a government rat”.

Some might smile at the Bank of England “surprise” at the recent the jump in Brtiish inflation. Across the Atlantic, Fed critics say the rise in the US monetary base from $871bn to $2,024bn in just two years is an incendiary pyre that will ignite as soon as US money velocity returns to normal.

Morgan Stanley expects bond carnage as this catches up with the Fed, predicting that yields on US Treasuries will rocket to 5.5pc. This has not happened so far. 10-year yields have fallen below 3pc, and M2 velocity has remained at historic lows of 1.72.

As a signed-up member of the deflation camp, I think the Bank and the Fed are right to keep their nerve and delay the withdrawal of stimulus — though that case is easier to make in the US where core inflation has dropped to the lowest since the mid 1960s. But fact that O Parsson’s book is suddenly in demand in elite banking circles is itself a sign of the sort of behavioral change that can become self-fulfilling.

As it happens, another book from the 1970s entitled “When Money Dies: the Nightmare of The Weimar Hyper-Inflation” has just been reprinted. Written by former Tory MEP Adam Fergusson — endorsed by Warren Buffett as a must-read — it is a vivid account drawn from the diaries of those who lived through the turmoil in Germany, Austria, and Hungary as the empires were broken up.

Near civil war between town and country was a pervasive feature of this break-down in social order. Large mobs of half-starved and vindictive townsmen descended on villages to seize food from farmers accused of hoarding. The diary of one young woman described the scene at her cousin’s farm.

“In the cart I saw three slaughtered pigs. The cowshed was drenched in blood. One cow had been slaughtered where it stood and the meat torn from its bones. The monsters had slit the udder of the finest milch cow, so that she had to be put out of her misery immediately. In the granary, a rag soaked with petrol was still smouldering to show what these beasts had intended,” she wrote.

Grand pianos became a currency or sorts as pauperized members of the civil service elites traded the symbols of their old status for a sack of potatoes and a side of bacon. There is a harrowing moment when each middle-class families first starts to undertand that its gilt-edged securities and War Loan will never recover. Irreversible ruin lies ahead. Elderly couples gassed themselves in their apartments.

Foreigners with dollars, pounds, Swiss francs, or Czech crowns lived in opulence. They were hated. “Times made us cynical. Everybody saw an enemy in everybody else,” said Erna von Pustau, daughter of a Hamburg fish merchant.

Great numbers of people failed to see it coming. “My relations and friends were stupid. They didn’t understand what inflation meant. Our solicitors were no better. My mother’s bank manager gave her appalling advice,” said one well-connected woman.

“You used to see the appearance of their flats gradually changing. One remembered where there used to be a picture or a carpet, or a secretaire. Eventually their rooms would be almost empty. Some of them begged — not in the streets — but by making casual visits. One knew too well what they had come for.”

Corruption became rampant. People were stripped of their coat and shoes at knife-point on the street. The winners were those who — by luck or design — had borrowed heavily from banks to buy hard assets, or industrial conglomerates that had issued debentures. There was a great transfer of wealth from saver to debtor, though the Reichstag later passed a law linking old contracts to the gold price. Creditors clawed back something.

A conspiracy theory took root that the inflation was a Jewish plot to ruin Germany. The currency became known as “Judefetzen” (Jew- confetti), hinting at the chain of events that would lead to Kristallnacht a decade later.

While the Weimar tale is a timeless study of social disintegration, it cannot shed much light on events today. The final trigger for the 1923 collapse was the French occupation of the Ruhr, which ripped a great chunk out of German industry and set off mass resistance.

Lloyd George suspected that the French were trying to precipitate the disintegration of Germany by sponsoring a break-away Rhineland state (as indeed they were). For a brief moment rebels set up a separatist government in Dusseldorf. With poetic justice, the crisis recoiled against Paris and destroyed the franc.

The Carthaginian peace of Versailles had by then poisoned everything. It was a patriotic duty not to pay taxes that would be sequestered for reparation payments to the enemy. Influenced by the Bolsheviks, Germany had become a Communist cauldron. partakists tried to take Berlin. Worker `soviets’ proliferated. Dockers and shipworkers occupied police stations and set up barricades in Hamburg. Communist Red Centuries fought deadly street battles with right-wing militia.

Nostalgics plotted the restoration of Bavaria’s Wittelsbach monarchy and the old currency, the gold-backed thaler. The Bremen Senate issued its own notes tied to gold. Others issued currencies linked to the price of rye.

This is not a picture of America, or Britain, or Europe in 2010. But we should be careful of embracing the opposite and overly-reassuring assumption that this is a mild replay of Japan’s Lost Decade, that is to say a slow and largely benign slide into deflation as debt deleveraging exerts its discipline.

Japan was the world’s biggest external creditor when the Nikkei bubble burst twenty years ago. It had a private savings rate of 15pc of GDP. The Japanese people have gradually cut this rate to 2pc, cushioning the effects of the long slump. The Anglo-Saxons have no such cushion.

There is a clear temptation for the West to extricate itself from the errors of the Greenspan asset bubble, the Brown credit bubble, and the EMU sovereign bubble by stealth default through inflation. But that is a danger for later years. First we have the deflation shock of lives. Then — and only then — will central banks go to far and risk losing control over their printing experiment as velocity takes off. One problem at a time please.

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