Wednesday, November 18, 2009

U.S.Inflation Reports - Contradictions and Absurdity

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

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The PPI (producer price index) was out Tuesday and the CPI (consumer price index) was out today. Both were up 0.3% for October, but for exactly the opposite reasons. Food prices were up in the PPI with fresh vegetable prices skyrocketing 24%. Fruit and vegetable prices declined for the 4th straight month in the CPI report and helped keep inflation down. New and used motor vehicles were up so much in price that they were responsible for 90% of the increase in core inflation in the CPI report. In the PPI, car and truck prices were down so much that they caused the core to fall 0.6% (an unusually large change for core PPI). So much for consistency in U.S. government reporting of inflation.

Even if they painted a consistent picture, the official U.S. inflation figures can't be trusted as is because of statistical adjustments that were made to the calculations in the 1980s and 1990s. All of these adjustments acted to lower the reported inflation rate and make it nearly impossible for high inflation numbers to appear. Substitution effects and hedonics are just two examples of 'improvements' made to the inflation calculations. Substitution is assumed to take place when the price of something rises a lot. People supposedly buy less of it and buy some cheaper item instead (less steak, more gruel for instance). The higher price item gets less weight in the data and the lower priced item more weight. Consumers are of course getting less pleasure from their purchases. Hedonics is exactly the opposite. Improvements in manufactured items like cars and electronic goods are assumed to lower the price because consumers get more pleasure from them. Sound contradictory? Well, that's because it is. Both make it difficult though for reported inflation numbers to rise too much and that's why they are both used.

There is really no reason to pay attention to the U.S. government's official inflation numbers. All you have to do is watch the currency and gold markets. A falling U.S. dollar means there is more inflation for Americans. Gold prices however are even a better gauge and can give a global read on inflation. While gold has been hitting a series of all time highs in U.S. dollars in the last six weeks, it is also recently started hitting all time highs in a number of other currencies, including the euro, the British pound, the Swiss franc, the Canadian dollar and the Yen. The market is clearly indicating global inflation is taking place and fiat currencies around the world are losing value.

Gold hit another all time high in morning trading in New York today, with spot gold reaching $1153.90. Silver was even stronger reaching $18.86 at one point. The trade-weighted dollar traded as low as 74.90, it's third break of the 75 level. The dollar rallied strongly yesterday on Bernanke's comments that the Fed was watching the level of the dollar. He said the same thing in June 2008 and probably other times as well. Based on the dollar's performance, all the Fed has done is watch it go down. The Fed also constantly says that there is no inflation in the U.S. The markets disagree. You decide which one you want to believe.

Disclosure: Long gold and silver.

NEXT: The Real Story About Gold Supply and Demand

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

1 comment:


Inflation is not out of the picture.