13 March 2012

John Williams on the Retail Sales Number - A Brief Interlude on Hyperinflation and Deflation

Although I am still firmly in the stagflation camp, I do allow at least for the possibility of a protracted deflation or a bout of serious inflation, or even a hyperinflation.

Just because something is possible does not make it probable, much less inevitable. I exhausted the subject of deflation, at least to my satisfaction, some years ago. Please do not recommend I read anything more about it. Those who believe it is coming will believe it no matter what, as Gary Shilling has done, with an exquisitely unrequited love, for many, many years.

Deflation is the outcome of a policy choice, nothing more, in an independent fiat currency regime.  So as you can see I am not intolerant of the Modern Monetary Theorists when they repeat what Lord Keynes, and even Friedman and Schwartz, have said for so many years.  It is the 'deficits don't ever matter' meme, wrapped in sophistry, that is cloying. The overlay of state fascism on monetarism is repugnant, and it has been attempted, and failed, several times in the last century.  And it will fail again if it is tried again, as do all Ponzi schemes that fail to conquer the majority of the world.

On the other hand, I am still struggling with the mechanism that John Williams believes makes hyperinflation in the dollar so likely.  I made a study of the forty or so serious inflations since WW II a couple of years ago, and think I understand it.

The difference here is that none of these hyperinflations involved the world's reserve currency, or a country not set upon by the compulsion or after effect of a highly destructive war, or some other exogenous force, or  even a fatal political collapse as in the case of the former Soviet Union. 

I am going to read the paper referenced below again to try and understand why John thinks a hyperinflation fits the case so well here. I still believe it is not probable. But if the American political structure collapses, then it is a different story. But I cannot think how likely that may be, at least for now. It is not that I cannot imagine it; a major policy error in response to a derivatives collapse that threatens the TBTF Banks is one such scenario. A concerted financial attack on King Dollar by a coalition of large economic powers is another. It is just that none of these seems particularly likely at this time.

From John Williams at Shadowstats:

Opening Comments and Executive Summary.

Inflation increasingly is the issue. Looking at February data, where the headline retail sales number put in its strongest monthly showing in six months, headline consumer inflation likely showed its strongest monthly gain in at least 11 months. Higher prices accounted for much of the February sales gain. Whatever gain was left over for the series—net of inflation—was accounted for by unseasonably mild winter weather in much of the country, in the context of ongoing concurrent seasonal factor distortions and normal monthly reporting volatility.

Along with labor data, trade balance, industrial production and housing construction, real (inflation-adjusted) retail sales—as a measure of the physical demand for consumer goods and services—is one of the key monthly economic releases. Accordingly, today’s Commentary is relatively brief, just outlining the nominal (not-adjusted-for-inflation) retail sales detail. A more comprehensive discussion on the latest inflation and economic information will follow in Friday’s (March 16th) Commentary, which will cover February inflation (CPI and PPI) and key economic (industrial production and real retail sales) reporting.

Hyperinflation Watch.

Irrespective of any intervening economic, inflation and financial-market developments, the broad economic, inflation and hyperinflation outlooks discussed in Hyperinflation 2012 of January 25th are not changed...