Signs Hyperinflation Is Arriving

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This post is gonna be short and sweet—and scary: 

Back in late August, I argued that hyperinflation would be triggered by a run on Treasury bonds. I described how such a run might happen, and argued that if Treasuries were no longer considered safe, then commodities would become the store of value. 

nostradamus

Such a run on commodities, I further argued, would inevitably lead to price increases and a rise in the Consumer Price Index, which would initially be interpreted by the Federal Reserve, the Federal government, as well as the commentariat, as a good thing: A sign that “the economy is recovering”, a sign that “normalcy” was returning. 

I argued that—far from being “a sign of recovery”—rising CPI would be the sign that things were about to get ugly. 

I concluded that, like the stagflation of ‘79, inflation would rise to the double digits relatively quickly. However, unlike in 1980, when Paul Volcker raised interest rates severely in order to halt inflation, in today’s weakened macro-economic environment, that remedy is simply not available to Ben Bernanke. 

Therefore, I predicted that inflation would spiral out of control, and turn into hyperinflation of the U.S. dollar. 

A lot of people claimed I was on drugs when I wrote this. 

Now? Not so much. 

In my initial argument, I was sure that there would come a moment when Treasury bond holders would realize that they are the New & Improved Toxic Asset—as everyone knows, there is no way the U.S. Federal government can pay the outstanding debt it has: It’s simply too big. 

So I assumed that, when the market collectively realized this, there would be a panic in Treasuries. This panic, of course, would lead to the spike in commodities. 

However, I am no longer certain if there will ever be such a panic in Treasuries. Backstop Benny has been so adroit at propping up Treasuries and keeping their yields low, the Stealth Monetization has been so effective, the TBTF banks’ arbitrage trade between the Fed’s liquidity windows and Treasury bond yields has been so lucrative, and the bond market itself is so aware that Bernanke will do anything to protect and backstop Treasuries, that I no longer think that there will necessarily be such a panic. 
But that doesn’t mean that the second part of my thesis—commodities rising, which will trigger inflation, which will devolve into hyperinflation—will not occur. 
In fact, it is occurring. 

The two key commodities that have been rising as of late are oil and grains, specifically wheat, corn and livestock feed. The BLS report on Producer Price Index of commodities is here

Grains as a class have risen over 33% year-over-year. Refined oil products have risen just shy of 13%, with home heating oil rising 18% year-over-year. In other words: Food, gasoline and heating oil have risen by double digits since 2009. And the 2010-‘11 winter in the northern hemisphere is approaching. 

A friend of mine, SB, a commodities trader, pointed out to me that big producers are hedged against rising commodities prices. As he put it to me in a private e-mail, “We sometimes forget that the commodity markets aren’t solely speculative. Most futures contracts are bought by companies whouse those commodities in their products, and are thus hedging their costs to produce those products.”

Very true: But SB also pointed out that, hedged or not, the lag time between agricultural commodities and the markets is about six-to-nine months, on average. So he thought that the rise in grains, which really took off in June–July, would hit the supermarket shelves in January–March. 

He also pointed out that, with higher commodity costs and lower consumption, companies are going to be between the Devil and the deep blue sea. My own take is, if you can’t get more customers, then you’re just gonna have to charge more from the ones you got. 

Coupled to these price increases is the ongoing Currency War: The U.S.—contrary to Secretary Timothy Geithner’s statements—is trying to debase the dollar, so as to make U.S. exports more attractive to foreign consumers. This has created strains with China, Europe and the emerging markets. 

A beggar-thy-neighbor monetary policy works for small countries getting out of a hole of their own making: It doesn’t work for the world’s largest single economy with the world’s reserve currency, in the middle of a Global Depression. 

On the contrary, it creates a backlash; the ongoing tiff over rare-earth minerals with China is just the beginning. This could easily be exacerbated by clumsy politicking, and turn into a full-on trade war. 

What’s so bad with a trade war, you ask? Why nothing, not a thing—if you want to pay through the nose for imported goods. If you enjoy paying 10, 20, 30% more for imported goods—then hey, let’s just stick it to them China-men! They’re still Commies, after all!

Furthermore, as regards the Federal Reserve policy, the upcoming Quantitative Easing 2, and the actions of its chairman, Ben Bernanke: There is an increasing sense in the financial markets that Backstop Benny and his Lollipop Gang don’t have the foggiest clue about what they’re doing.

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