As global growth is being downgraded by the I.M.F. from 3.5% to 3.1% fears that the Eurozone is already in a recession and the U.S. is likely to enter one next year, are growing. As the world becomes more and more familiar with the economic and financial climate investors are realizing that economic life is far from simple and that growth is not something that governments or central banks can turn on or off.
Likewise for all the clever construction of inflation and deflation measurements, the public in general are beginning to realize that overall inflation and deflation are far too simplistic to be given more than a ‘seasonal influence’. The reality is that you can have both at the same time. The reality is also that there are times when deflationary paths, in some sectors, join with inflationary paths in others, to cause economic damage that is caused by both being destructive [and not ruling each other out in the addition of a minus to a plus -e.g. inflation at 2% with deflation at 2% does not make zero - but the two combined have a damaging effect of 4%]. That’s what is soon to happen.
Inflation in the U.S. is running at 2.4% per annum [ahead of the food inflation that is on its way from the drought]. Deflation in asset values in housing is slowing but the slowing of the velocity of money alongside the falling value of fixed interest securities and a slowing economy, join together to undermine growth, the future and confidence. With a desperate need for increasing economic growth to stave off the destructive impact of inflation plus deflation, the failure to produce economic resuscitation seems more likely, by the day, to point to a new downturn. Then a very different type of inflation to food inflation will come to be.
It is excessive monetary inflation, which as we have seen does little to kick start growth. It simply postpones recession. Subsequently, the deflation that happens to asset values reaches down to the value of the buck in your pocket. That’s when inflation really takes off to attempt to compensate for growing deflation.
Where We Are Now
Where are we in this process now? We are still at the start of a serious downturn as the Fed’s monetary stance, while very positive, has failed to add real growth to the U.S. Chairman Bernanke said the following last week, “Progress in reducing unemployment is likely to be “frustratingly slow” and repeated the Fed is ready to take further action to boost the recovery, while refraining from discussing specific steps.
“The U.S. economy has continued to recover, but economic activity appears to have decelerated somewhat during the first half of this year,” Bernanke said to the Senate Banking Committee in Washington. The Fed is “prepared to take further action as appropriate to promote a stronger economic recovery,” he said. Bernanke said growth is slowing as business investment cools in response to the European crisis [which is now worsening] and the prospect of fiscal tightening in the U.S. At the same time, households are restraining spending as unemployment remains elevated and credit is hard to get.
The Danger he is now facing in adding more quantitative easing is that he will add more newly created money, without producing the desired effects of raising employment. The net effect will then be to cheapen the value of money itself.
The so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ would push the economy into a “shallow recession” early next year, Bernanke said. [Unless Congress acts, $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts are set to take effect automatically at the start of next year.] Additional negative effects would result from public uncertainty about spending plans, including the debt ceiling. The most effective way that the Congress could help to support the economy right now would be to work to address the nation’s fiscal challenges in a way that takes into account both the need for long-run sustainability and the fragility of the recovery. The Fed chairman said Europe’s financial markets and economy “remain under significant stress,” and that’s creating “spillover effects” in the rest of the world including the U.S.
That said, European developments that resulted in a significant disruption in global financial markets would inevitably pose significant challenges for the U.S. financial system and U.S. economy,” he said. It is against this backdrop that we now look at the way forward for gold and silver in the days to come.
Gold & Silver in Deflation
The definition of ‘deflation’ is: While inflation erodes the value of money, which progressively buys less and less per unit, deflation makes money worth more. That makes people and businesses less likely to spend it - consumers because they expect even better deals if they wait, and businesses because it's less profitable to produce goods or services that will bring a lower real return. These factors can feed on each other to produce a downward economic spiral, as happened in the Great Depression.
To us this is over simplistic as it describes only one picture of deflation. In a global economy, the definition needs to account for the value of each currency area suffering deflation. After all the balance of payments comes into play and in turn the international value of the currencies suffering from the aberrations of deflation and inflation.
As brought out in her recent article, Rhona O’ Connell pointed out that in “The Golden Constant, written by Roy Jastram over 30 years ago and recently re-released including fresh material by economist Jill Leyland, tells us that in the U.S. there have been three recorded deflationary periods and gold increased its purchasing power in each of them, by between 44% (1929-1933) and 100% (1814-1830).
Please note that this was at a time when the gold price was fixed and unable to rise. Nevertheless, the purchasing power of currencies fell against gold. We learn from this that while governmental controls do work, they work only up to a point then are overwhelmed by market forces.
The forces at work in the financial world now are pointing towards a coming increasingly deflationary picture. If it does take hold then the deflation of cash will overwhelm any quantitative easing the Fed may produce. If the Fed were then foolish enough to print at a pace that keeps up with accelerating deflation, then, it will simply create a hyperinflationary environment. But will they have a choice. The same environment will happen in many countries in the developed world but at different times and at a different pace.
The World Gold Council did some useful work on this through Oxford Economics who found that gold is useful to investors in various economic scenarios, not only during high inflation periods. The research found that while deflation leads to a rise in the US dollar it maintained that the destructive impact of deflation on traditional assets was likely to outweigh the US dollar effect and provide a boost to gold.
In fact, the analysis showed that gold would outperform equities and housing in a deflationary scenario.
Additionally, a disinflationary (and ultimately deflationary) environment provides central banks with more room to manoeuver on stimulus. For example, on 5 July, the Bank of England, People’s Bank of China and the E.C.B. acted in unison by announcing accommodative measures in response to weak economic figures. These accommodative measures should fuel the risk of consumer price inflation further down the line while providing a temporary boost both to asset prices and capital flows to emerging markets. It is our belief that if these measures again fail [as they have done to date] central banks will be forced by their political masters [despite their assumed independence] to print more stimuli. This is how deflation will force inflation at an accelerating pace onto the scene.
Further, the apparent dependency on central bank support for an ailing global economy highlights its chronic weakness. The combined weight of uncertainty and hope of central bank action will maintain higher asset price volatility but faces the danger of triggering runaway inflation in the back of rising deflationary pressures.
Right now, inflationary pressures may be receding in various regions, but there are underlying trends to suggest that deflation risk has increased. This challenging environment tends to be conducive to gold investment.