Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: may-9-2011 About two months ago, at the Austrian Scholars Conference of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, a few asked us what it was like to live under hyperinflation, when they learned of our Argentine background. We responded that it was not so bad, because hyperinflation [...]
Please, click here to read this article in pdf format: may-9-2011
About two months ago, at the Austrian Scholars Conference of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, a few asked us what it was like to live under hyperinflation, when they learned of our Argentine background. We responded that it was not so bad, because hyperinflation is really the last stage of a currency crisis. At that point, the depreciation of the currency, the repudiation of the currency goes parabolic and “money dies”. It can last only a few weeks, months, until looting, social unrest takes over, the government collapses and you have a new government and a new currency, backed by something different than government liabilities. We really prefer that scenario to decades of light inflation.
However, given our age, we were only able to witness the inflationary processes of the ‘80s. We missed all the “preparation”, all the mise-en-scène of the ‘70s in Argentina. What do we mean? Hyperinflations can only take place after credit collapses. Not before. That is what happened in Argentina during the ‘70s, which allowed the acceleration of the ‘80s.
Why must credit first collapse? Because to reach hyperinflation, which is the ultimate repudiation of a currency, deleveraging must have run its course. Not by debt repayment, but by the massive devaluation of debts, taking all credit “supply” (not demand) off the table. When that process is done, it is only natural (in the absence of a banking system in local currency) to get to the next stage, whereby the currency is destroyed. Having said this, we can now turn to our point today.
The world certainly does not face hyperinflation yet which implies that if our view is correct, the pain will continue. Pain takes the form of deleveraging, like the one we witnessed last week in the commodities space. This deleveraging is counterintuitive, because as systemic risk increases as it did last week (first with the transmission of the sell off in silver to all the commodities space and second with the dovish stand by the European Central Bank), risk trades are unwound and capital must find its way back to its funding currencies: the US dollar and the Yen. Yet, it is these two currencies which clearly stand out as the most likely candidates to face hyperinflation in the future…How close is that future?
The answer to this question depends again on how much longer credit can remain alive. Unfortunately for our taste, we think credit could remain in ample supply for a lot longer than most think. The real catalyst to start its shrinkage will be a wave of defaults.
In the US, these defaults would have to come from the private sector, because the Fed will continue buying government debt. However, the maturity wall of the private sector is at least two years ahead of us. In Japan, this is a non-starter, given the ample level of domestic savings. In China, where markets are totally controlled by the government, this defaults also unlikely to be triggered and if they were, the People’s Bank of China, in our view, would be in a position to deal with them, particularly given the current high level of reserve requirements. In other emerging markets, deleveraging in their local currencies would not begin until deleveraging in US dollars begins. Therefore, where else can we see a threat of defaults?
The obvious answer is in the European Union. Perhaps, this is what was behind the second sell-off of the Euro that took place on Friday, when Der Spiegel first published a note online, suggesting that Greece’s exit from the Union would be discussed at a secret meeting during this weekend. The Euro fell to the high 1.43s from 1.45 on this, dragging all the commodities complex along. Defaults within the European Union are most likely than elsewhere, because they can either be triggered by sovereigns or by the private sector which is being asphyxiated by both the European Central Bank and the sovereigns.
In this context, it may no longer be wise to trade long risk (i.e. commodities, stocks), but on a hedged basis (i.e. short Euro), to address the many deleveraging bouts that we will experience, until credit is off the table and the doors are open to hyperinflation. From this, it should be clear that we do not share the view that last week’s sell-off in commodities was of a technical nature, namely that the USD had been oversold, but of a more fundamental one.