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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Here comes stagflation

Prices can't be held back forever. Jobs, though? Maybe.

Comments (26)

Three things to consider:
1. Commodity prices are still below mid-2008 levels.
2. Commodities (yes, even oil prices) are a small component of end user prices.
3. Corporate profits (including the energy sector) are at record highs.

Allan says it's alright everyone! He's doing okay, so everyone else must be doing okay also.

A 10% jump in food, clothing and consumer goods is nothing to people on fixed income. Poor people just whine too much!

"By the fall, people will most likely be paying more for each of them, as rising prices hit most consumer goods, say retailers, food companies and manufacturers of consumer products."

What the hell would companies know about what their prices are going to be? Allan says "no probs!" Let's all go shopping!

And Allan let us not forget all that money that was created that appears to be sitting on the books. What happens when it starts seeping into the economy?

let us not forget all that money that was created

But it's perfectly ok, I suppose, to forget all the money that was destroyed in the housing bubble?

And Snards and BL, are you disputing the three points I made? Or just setting up straw men to argue against?

1)The mid-2008 levels were record highs which set off food riots around the world, and we're gaining on them steadily. Notice any unhappy people around the world lately?

2) Commodities are not a negligible part of end-user prices. Particularly for food and oil. I know you eat food, but I'm guessing from your general snootiness that you may not own a car. But it may interest you to know that every item you buy in every store arrived there on a truck which burns oil, and prior to that it was possibly on a ship or plane than burns oil.

3) Corporate profits are about to fall due to margin collapse. That would be the margin between the cost of their inputs and what they can charge. Thus, they will be raising prices. Profits have been high because the corporations have laid off millions of people who will now be paying 10% more for everything. I wonder if their unemployment benefits (if they still have them) will be going up by 10%?

"World Bank President Robert Zoellick says global food prices have hit "dangerous levels" that could contribute to political instability, push millions of people into poverty and raise the cost of groceries.

The bank says in a new report that global food prices have jumped 29 percent in the past year, and are just 3 percent below the all-time peak hit in 2008."

Here's a good example of the corporate media at work from the NYTimes article: "In the United States, the willingness of companies to raise prices shows they are feeling better about the domestic recovery."
So, relax, everybody. This isn't the end result of the biggest fraud in history. This is good news.

I do believe we are headed to a period of stagflation of sorts because of Bush and now Bama. The real thing holding back inflation is the lack of employment growth. Wages are key in determining inflation. But here Bama's policies are to unionize, errecting barriers to entry and competition in labor. Because of this plus paying people to be non productive (such as unemployment compensation extension and free healthcare with food stamps) will only serve to bring about wage inflation at higher levels of unemployment than otherwise. Moreover, Bama's energy solutions are very high cost relative to the potential of unleashing a twenty percent or more increase in domestic oil supply possible by opening up remote ANWR to exploration and development, speeding up oil drilling permitting as it now languishes, and allowing the Canadians to sharply increase oil exports by approving the Keystone XL pipeline. (U.S oil is actually selling at a significant discount to European crude because of rising Canadian oil imports.) On the food side, ethanol mandates should be scaled back to 3%, restricting its use in gasoline to only economic merit or as an oxygenate. Over 30% of corn crop acreage is going into this silly Bush era strategy. ObamaCare threatens to discourage doctors to such a degree, the supply of doctors may actually drop. Then there's the dragonian EPA let loose to restrict industry's activities based on emissions of a rather benign gas (CO 2). You want an obsessively clean environment, then don't be surprised if economic growth and inflation don't suffer materially. You think China and others are not going to use more coal, retaining competitiveness. You'd be sadly mistaken.

"Commodities (yes, even oil prices) are a small component of end user prices."

Two things, metals have gone up a lot and there are lots of downstream industries that this will affect. Food prices have climbed also.

for corporate profits, that is due to cutting heads due to the recession dropping the labor cost, however, they've been absorbing commodity price increases since there really isn't any pricing pressure.

I responded to your points, Allan, and you're awfully quiet.

I wonder how much oil gets consumed in the acquisition and manufacture of parts for, and shipment of solar panels.

I responded to your points, Allan, and you're awfully quiet.

That's OK...


I love how the article finishes up with a consultant saying "we found a way" in the 1970's. I've seen that Rumsfeld is working the talk show circuit pushing his memoir. Perhaps Rummie can reprise his Nixon administration role as chairman of the president's cost of living council and roll out them wage and price controls. And if that doesn't work, we move to the mid-70's solution, printing up new "WIN" buttons, as if sticking them on our lapels will actually Whip Inflation Now. It's so much fun to relive one's youth.

Allen my friend, money isn't something that gets used up, because except for the very small part of the money supply represented by currency and coin there is no fixed sum of money lying around.

The US dollar, as all other currencies in the modern global economy, is nothing more than a derivative, an instrument that has value only because the government issuing it says it has value and legally requires its acceptance -- how much value in the US depends on the policies of the Fed (increasing or decreasing interest rates, lending to banks and/or buying government bonds in the open market) which indirectly influence the numbers of these derivative instruments called money floating through the financial system.

What matters for inflation are the Fed's current and prospective policies and the pace of economic activity, not how many dollars there might have been at some arbitrary instant of time in the past.

Problem that we learned in the seventies is that too loose monetary policy can drive inflationary expectations, eventually spiraling out-of-control rounds of inflation that only can be stopped with a jolting Fed induced recession like that precipated by Chairman Volcker with the implicit support of Reagan in the early 80's -- that would be the second worst recession since the Great Depression.

Snards: I wonder if their unemployment benefits (if they still have them) will be going up by 10%?

Not looking too good on that front, Bama's latest budget calls for cutting unemployment benefits from the DOL by about $37 billion. But the republican-dominated house may kill the entire thing as it includes all kinds of transportation pork spending.

One more article:

They also have a fascinating article on Madoff at NYT. He feels that the banks should've known he was lying and ratted him out.

God, these sociopaths are all the same.

Allen is correct, though this is a complex subject. I invite everyone to read Mish's blog about the subject, but basically inflation is based on the growth of the entire money supply which is currency and outstanding credit.

Japan would be a good case example of what we could expect where they too felt the commodities bubble but prices continues to fall as they have for 20 years. The reason for this is the overwhelming net contraction of the money supply due to credit destruction. The banks don't have any money, they just have loan loss reserves. Anyone hear of underwriting standards being loosened?

Commodity prices are small in comparison to final goods prices. Also think about the percentage of consumers' monthly budget is taken from $2.5/gal to $3.5- not very much. Stores have minimal pricing power, companies are buying business. Inflation benefits the government and their subcontractors first, so the NYT is happy to hype it.

There is no class of investment that is more expensive than 2008 save for gold and t-bills. This is a fear play, and gold faces sharp corrections.

We will continue to be in recession for quite some time as there is no driver for growth.

The problem with the subprime fraud was that when the scheme collapsed the criminals running it took trillions in guarantees, etc...from the United States to save themselves. I always wondered what would happen if we walked into a situation that really was an emergency - a time when the nation should run up serious debt to fight through a real problem? We're like a musician who pawns the guitar to buy some crack, and then really needs to pawn it to make the rent, but the guitar is already gone.

It appears we are heading into dramatic times. Some of this is directly linked to the same old crowd gaming the system, but there's another feel this time. We may be about to experience some real problems. This is when some of those trillions we just charged could really help. Unfortunately, we've destroyed our image as a strong well-run financial system so that wealth is unavailable, and we might implode financially instead. It does happen, even to super-powers. It happened to the Soviet Union, but at least there was a good reason for their failure. They bet on communism - one of the dumbest economic models ever thought up.

Meanwhile, we had a system that worked great but we still could implode for a crime. For greed. We could collapse just to prop up some fraudulently-rated mortgages that Wall Street called Triple A, but that were actually crap. It was a crime, folks, and the fact that they seem to have gotten away with it, does not change what happened.

The irony for the super-wealthy is that they were trying to help themselves with this greedfest, but they could end up really regretting the whole thing, if society unravels enough. It doesn't matter how rich you are, if you're afraid to venture out of the vault.

Allan, if you are arguing that "commodities are a small component" and have little consequence when prices increase, tell that to the 14 employees of a local coffee roaster. They lost their jobs mainly because of 22% wholesale coffee price increases. I don't think the ex-employees regard it as a "small component". The Percentages World you are in has to consider the fallout.

A little thought (not my own) on the increase in corporate profits. Productivity numbers have been on the rise since the economy tanked. And why. Fewer people doing the same work more used to do and not complaining for fear of being laid off. If you are salaried and much of America is, it's tantamount to a pay cut.

Or you can hire cheap, incompetent foreign contractors and then what is left of your own workforce makes up for their incompetence while training the contractors to actually do the jobs they were hired for in the first place.

I think you proved Allen's point that input prices won't be passed onto final consumers.

The employment recession is caused by barriers to hire employees due to regulations, taxes, high health insurance costs, and the housing market decline. There will be little recovery in the employment market until housing does, which is very very far off into the future.

If it were just losses on housing we could have solved this overnight. It was the derivative bets on insuring the subprime mortgages that started to unravel. Even now what's on the books of these banks is a mirage to allow them to continue gambling.
The crime came in because the people selling these security swaps knew they were shaky and yet sold them as triple-A solid gold. That's the fraud. It's breathtaking to hear the culprits talk about the meltdown now. Clearly, a derivatives bubble of 600 trillion dollars must have gotten their attention. I believe their approach was, "So what? If the bubble bursts, we'll already be rich and our firms will be too big to fail. We'll just send one of our people to join the government and funnel money to save us. How about Henry Paulson?"
Hearing him play dumb about the magnitude of the crisis now is very reminiscent of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld lying us into Iraq and then claiming they just got it wrong. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then trying to say you were just wrong is the last refuge of a politician. These people are trying way too hard to convince us there was no criminal activity here. No, suddenly everybody just got really dumb. The problem they face is that the American People are about to feel the pain more directly, and Cheney, Rumsfeld and Paulson are going to sound like Mubarak trying to shovel his B.S.
The part where we've sounded silly on this blog is complaining about Henry Paulson and his son taking funds for soccer. I mean it was annoying but when you consider the incredible cost we're about to pay as households, a city, and a country for these runaway prices, the soccer thing is just like Paulson finding a quarter on the sidewalk.

Pistolero, you're wrong. Besides laying off 14 employees, they increased prices on all their products using the decrease in employee costs to help lower product cost increases to help not lose market share. Most successful companies that can continue in this economy aren't narrow minded. They must employ many angles to survive.

Food and beverage prices and the transportation CPI price index are all above their highest 2008 values now, and apparel will be higher as well by the end of this year. The housing component of CPI (which is based on rents) is near 2008 levels -- we know that poor people rent. It's fantasy land to think that input price increases aren't/won't be passed on to final consumers. Inflation is a virulent tax that attacks those least able to afford it.

"There is no class of investment that is more expensive than 2008 save for gold and t-bills. This is a fear play, and gold faces sharp corrections."

I'd take a look at this:

The past year shows across the board price increases. Right now, cutting heads keeps prices down, but we're running out of that leeway, so end prices to the consumer will need to increase.

Inflation is a virulent tax that attacks those least able to afford it.

Inflation is also an essential element of fiscal and social stability.

Inflation is also an essential element of fiscal and social stability.

If by inflation you mean a tiny amount of inflation, I'll buy that. For example, from 1953 to 1963 inflation averaged barely over one percent per year, while GDP grew by 37 percent (3.5 percent compound annual average), and the national debt as a percent of GDP dropped from 70 percent to 50 percent -- all in all during a period of incredible stability.

But note that political and social instability picked up big time in the late 1960's as the US government fueled the inflation monster to finance incursions into Southeast Asia and to fund Great Society welfare programs. Now the Fed and the administration through their debt monetization program (aka QE 2) are reinvigorating the inflation beast in ways that haven't occured since the 1970's, a timeframe known for stagflation, double digit inflation rates, the misery index and attempts to redefine full employment as being an unemployment rate somewhere between 6 and 8 percent.


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