In current economic analysis, inflation is largely in the eye of the beholder, and depending on how you choose to look, very different stories emerge. In the U.S., food and beverages count for just 16.4% of the CPI calculation. The Chinese apparently believe that the basic necessities of life should count for more, assigning a 33% weight to the nutritional components. These differences in measurement are partially responsible for the divergent inflation climate in both countries, and make most people believe that inflation is fickle and localized. From my perspective, inflation is a global wave that will ultimately swamp all shores.
As the world’s economic leaders gather in Davos Switzerland, much of the discussion has been focused on a report jointly issued by the Global Economic Forum and McKinsey & Co. which forecasts a $100 trillion increase in global debt in the coming decade. The authors of the report argue that such an increase will be needed to maintain global economic health. Strangely, while acknowledging how the massive increase in credit caused the global financial crisis of 2008, the report’s authors admit no fear of even greater leverage today. They conclude: “Credit is the lifeblood of the economy, and much more of it will be needed to sustain the recovery and enable the developing world to achieve its growth potential.”
But the global credit stock has already doubled from $57 trillion in 2000 to $109 trillion in 2009, with disastrous consequences. The WEF report wouldn’t be so alarming if it wasn’t emanating from a gathering of global central bankers, business leaders and politicians. These are, unfortunately, the folks with all the power to turn these ideas into reality.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama kept pace with the madness in Davos by vowing to “slash” government debt by just $400 billion in 10 years. However, almost simultaneously the Congressional Budget Office upped its 2011 deficit projection to $1.48 trillion, which is over $400 billion more than it previously forecasted — effectively wiping Obama’s cuts before they are even formally proposed.
The myopia extends into the legislative branch. In a recent appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, Senator Harry Reid said, “When we start talking about the debt, the first thing people do is run to Social Security. But Social Security is fully funded for the next 40 years.” Apparently the Senator pays no attention to the non-partisan CBO either. Last week the office states that Social Security will run permanent deficits beginning this year, 5 years sooner than expected. If we aren’t going to be honest about the insolvency of Social Security and Medicare, how can they possibly be fixed, and how can the costs ever be contained? The unfortunate truth here, once again, leads to the conclusion that financing our nation’s entitlement programs will be done courtesy of the Federal Reserve.
The CBO also said that the government will run up an additional $12 trillion in debt over the next decade if current taxing and spending policies remain in effect. Their report contained this foreboding comment: “…a growing level of federal debt would also increase the probability of a sudden fiscal crisis, during which investors would lose confidence in the government’s ability to manage its budget, and the government would thereby lose its ability to borrow at affordable rates.” The fact that our elected leaders fail to understand basic economics, or simply bury their heads in the sand, underscores why inflation will be a major factor in the years ahead.
For me, there is no escaping the conclusion that inflation will continue to surge. Inflation is, after all, the increase in money supply. And there appears to be no escaping the likelihood of massive floods of new money rolling off presses around the world, especially in Washington. But to a degree that is virtually ignored by many economists, a currency’s purchasing power is not only affected by money supply growth but also from the mere perception of it. Just like Enron shares became worthless overnight, if the U.S. is deemed to be insolvent because it cannot pay back its debt, the currency could plummet in a very short period of time, even if that pending supply of dollars has yet to be printed.
When you understand these basic issues, the decision to include precious metals, and other stores of value, in investment portfolios becomes a foregone conclusion.