Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ben Bernanke's 'It's Not My Fault' Inflation Speech

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.

Americans shouldn’t expect to hear the truth about inflation from Fed Chief Ben Bernanke and he didn't disappoint in a speech he gave to the International Monetary Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on Monday. The money-printer-in-chief of the Federal Reserve denied that the Fed’s easy money policies are responsible for the inflation that is currently showing up in commodity prices. The public shouldn’t have expected anything else from the dissembling Fed Chair, nor should they believe anything he says.

Bernanke claims that rapidly rising commodity prices are the result of rising demand and not enough supply. While in isolation this is always the case in economics, it doesn’t explain why demand is rising in leaps and bounds and why this has occurred at the same time the Fed has been on a money printing binge. Bernanke did not make comparisons in his speech between demand and prices in 2008, when the Fed turned up the printing presses to max and conditions right now. Let’s look at a few of them:  U.S. gasoline prices went from approximately $1.60 a gallon to almost $4.00. Oil prices have tripled from a low around $33 a barrel. Copper prices almost tripled during the same period. Cotton prices have gone through the roof and took out a high established around 150 years ago. Silver prices went from a low of $8.88 to almost $50.  And that’s just the beginning.
Did global demand for oil, copper, and silver increase by three or more times in two and a half years?  It most certainly did not. If anything economic demand has only increased by a few percent at most. There is something that did increase by a lot more however – the Fed’s balance sheet, which grows when it prints money. That has gone through the roof just like commodity prices. Money printing of course increases demand for any number of items because it makes a lot more funds available in the financial system. For some reason, Bernanke didn’t quite connect the dots between the two in his speech.
The recognition that increasing the available money in the economy leads to rising prices has been known for 500 years and was first proposed by well-known astronomer Copernicus. The idea is based on grade-school arithmetic. If you have an economy of a certain size and a given amount of money and you increase that amount of money, then each unit of money is worth less. It’s not rocket science, and yet Fed officials with PhDs from top schools can’t seem to be able to grasp this simple concept. Or perhaps they don’t want to do so.
Bernanke’s speech also didn’t explain why the price of gold has doubled since its Credit Crisis low. While gold does have some industrial uses, its price is a good gage of inflation expectations on the part of the investing public. Bernanke claimed these were under control, so we don’t have to worry about inflation. Gold is telling a very different story – and gold is not known to lie.
Bernanke also fell back on the 'employment is high and there is slack in the economy, so inflation can’t happen' argument. Historical analysis indicates that hyperinflation takes place under just such conditions. The most recent example happened in Zimbabwe in the 2000s (perhaps Ben didn’t read the papers during those years). As the economy collapsed and unemployment headed toward close to 100%, prices skyrocketed. It wasn’t the first time something like this has happened, it’s the same story over and over and over again throughout history – yet Ben keeps telling us it can’t happen. Well, I guess if you don’t let little things like reality intrude in your worldview, it can’t.
As an author of a book which includes a lot of material on inflation history, I found no case in the past where the authorities admitted their guilt in causing inflation. In every instance, the government printed a lot money or cut the coinage (if it was before paper money existed). Without exception in modern times, speculators and foreign influences are blamed for inflation. For some reason the government money-printers behind the inflation that ruins their countries just never seem to admit that they’re at fault. Bernanke’s recent speech is just another example of history repeating itself.   

Disclosure: None

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup
Author, "Inflation Investing: A Guide for the 2010s"

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.


james moylan said...

I have a web site where I give advise on penny stocks and stocks under five dollars. I have many years of experience with these type of stocks. If their is anyone that is interested in these type of stocks you can check out my web site by just clicking my name. I would like to comment about double digit inflation. I am very disturbed by the lack of progress on cutting the budget deficit. It will require large tax increases and budget cuts to bring the deficit under control. When nobody will buy the debt obligations of the united states than the buyer of last resort will emerge and who might be that buyer of last resort’ the government itself. in other words the massive money printing will have begun welcome weimar republic two thousand ?


Nice take on ben.