In the aftermath of Ray Dalio’s conversion to an inflationista earlier this year (even if he has since once again been pushing a deflationary agenda when he once again went long Treasurys in late September as Zero Hedge reported previously), which promptly got such permanent deflationists as David Rosenberg to change their multi-year tune, it seemed as if there was nobody left in the deflationary camp. Which, implicitly meant Bernanke was winning as the world’s expectations for a return to inflation were rising (remember: hyperinflation has nothing to do with inflation per se, and everything to do with loss of confidence in a currency, even if formerly a reserve), and also meant the Fed would need to do less to further its reflationary agenda.
Alas, as the Taper Tantrum and the shock upon its subsequent withdrawal showed, not to mention the recent outright disinflation in Europe, any rumors that the Fed was back in control were wildly exagerated, and here we find ourselves, entering the last month of 2013 with loud speculation that not only will the BOJ increase its own QE but the ECB itself will have no choice but to join the QE party (even as the Fed may or may not taper although it is increasingly looking likely that with an economy this late in the cycle, Yellen will simply forego tapering altogether, and may even navigate Bernanke’s chopper) in order to stoke even more inflation as the current amount was, surprise, insufficient. We ignore all discussion of what such a reckless action would mean for the credibility of fiat, although we remind readers that right now both the US and Japan monetize 70% of their gross bond issuance, and thus deficit.
So with everyone expecting deflation to have been conquered early in 2013, only for events to once again show that neither is it conquered, nor are central banks in charge despite having a collective balance sheet of over $10 trillion, we have once again gotten a demonstration of Bob Farrell’s rule #9: ” When all the experts and forecasts agree – something else is going to happen.” And yet, that is not exactly true: not all “experts” think the Fed has won the fight, and the deflation has been conquered (what the Fed’s response to even more deflation will be is a separate topic altogether, but it is not rocket surgery to assume “more of the same” until one day the Fed breaks the dollar itself). CLSA’s Russell Napier has just written perhaps the most vocal pro-deflation piece we have read in a long time. It is titled, appropriately enough, “An ill wind.“
Selected extracts from CLSA’s Russell Napier:
Inflation has fallen to 1.10/0 in the USA and 0.7% in the Eurozone and we are now perilously close to deflation. Reflation is needed to relieve debt burdens throughout society and in doing so to bolster corporate equity. Investors are cheering the direct impact of QE on their equity valuations, but ignoring its failure to produce sufficient nominal-GDP growth to reduce debt. In a market where such bad news has been seen as good news (as it leads to more QE.), the reality of QE’s failure will become bad news as we head towards deflation.
When US inflation fell below 1% in 1998, 2001-02 and 2008-09, equity investors saw major losses. If a similar deflation shock hits us now, those losses will be exacerbated, since the available monetary responses are much more limited than they were in the past.
For investors who cannot take the risk of leaving the bull-market party too early, this report focuses on three leading indicators of imminent deflation: copper prices; inflation expectations, as implied by the difference in yield between five-year Treasuries and Treasury inflation-protected securities (TIPS); and the spread on BAA corporate bonds.
With US inflation already dangerously low, a significant decline in copper prices would signal a major deflation shock. Investors should sell equities if the five-year TIPS-implied inflation rate falls from the current 1.86% to 1.50% or below, or if the spread on BAA corporate bonds rises from the current 262bps to 300bps or higher.
Deflationary winds are strengthening Japanese corporations continue to cut their US-dollar selling prices, forcing Chinese and Korean exporters to follow suit, A further major fall in the yen would ratchet up the pressure. Meanwhile, broad-money growth remains anaemic across the developed world. In the USA, the Fed’s failure to create normal broad-money growth is intensifying as bank credit growth slows rapidly, while in the Eurozone, bank credit to the private sector is now contracting more rapidly than it did in 2009. The failure of monetary policy to defeat deflation is about to become apparent, with dire consequences for equity prices.
We are on the eve of a deflationary shock which will likely reduce equity valuations from very high to very low levels. This research seeks to provide investors with some lead indicators as to when the current disinflationary forces erupt into a destructive deflation. Each investor must decide for themselves just how close to midnight they want to leave this particular party. The advice of Solid Ground is leave now as it is increasingly likely that one event will be the catalyst to very rapidly change inflationary into deflationary expectations. Indeed, when key prices are already falling across the globe, one should expect one key major credit event to occur.
Three times since 1997 inflation has fallen below 1% with very negative impacts for equity investors. On all three occasions an existing low level of inflation was forced lower by dramatic events: the bankruptcy of Russia and collapse of LTCM in 1998; the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001; and the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. While nobody would attribute the 11 September atrocity with extant global deflationary forces, the other two episodes can clearly be associated with such forces. So perhaps it is global deflationary forces creating a bankruptcy event, somewhere in the world, that is the catalyst for a sudden change in inflationary expectations in the developed world. It can all happen very quickly; and it is dangerous to stay at an equity party driven by disinflation when it can spill so rapidly into deflation.
In 1998 falling export prices triggered a Russian default, and in 2008 falling US house prices triggered the Lehman bankruptcy. Going back further, deflation in the oil price in 1982 produced a Mexican default and a credit event which threatened to bring down the US banking system. Deflation in these key prices produced a credit event which rapidly produced a major reassessment of the outlook for the general price level. Across the world today we see falling commodity prices and, primarily due to the weak yen, falling manufactured-goods prices. When there is plenty of leverage in the system and any key price starts to decline then a credit event and a sudden change in inflationary expectations are much more possible than the consensus believes. So watch the TIPS, BAA bond spreads and copper if you must, but this analyst prefers to observe the party from outside.
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We wonder how long before the lack of controlled (that being the key word) inflation will the recent inflationary converts throw in the towel again and once again start pounding the deflationary drum. Actually, in retrospect, we couldn’t care less. The bigger question, as has been the case from Day 1 of QE, is how long until the disproportionate response to even more deflation will the Fed react, as it always does, with even moar stimulus, until it finally does just enough to force consensus to finally begin doubting the viability of the current reserve currency under the mentorship of the Marriner Eccles monetary mandarins. Because as we never tire, no monetary system (or nation, or civilization for that matter) has ever ceased to exist due to hyperdeflation – the cause has always been the response of the ruling class to said deflation.