Commodity Inflation Versus Asset Deflation (Guest Post) ~ market folly

Monday, June 29, 2009

Commodity Inflation Versus Asset Deflation (Guest Post)

This is a Guest Post from Phil at Phil's Stock World

California lost more than Michael Jackson recently. They also lost their credit rating as Fitch dropped them to A-minus and even that rating was immediately placed on negative credit watch. California faces a $24 billion-plus budget deficit for the fiscal year that begins Wednesday, rapidly declining sales tax revenues and an impotent legislature that can’t agree on solutions. Faced with the prospect of running out of cash, State Controller John Chiang said Wednesday the state will begin to issue IOUs for all general fund payments other than those categories protected by the state constitution, federal law and court decisions.

California has always been a trend-setting state and we have to wonder how far behind them the rest of the country is. According the the Congressional Budget Office, the US’s projected debt is now growing so quickly that is will exceed the size of the economy in 2023, that is 7 years earlier than the projections of the last report just 18 months ago. The culprit is not the huge sum of stimulus spending that President Obama and Congress have injected into the economy this year, the budget office said. Instead, rising health care costs and an aging population together continue to push government spending upward at an unsustainable pace, only faster than the budget office last estimated.

US DebtDebt soars because of unrelenting growth in federal spending on health care programs and a rise in Social Security spending” as a share of the economy, the report said. Up to 90 percent of the increase is due to Medicare and Medicaid spending rather than Social Security, it added. Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, released a statement saying that the budget office report “reinforces the importance of not only paying for health reform, but ensuring that it significantly bends the cost curve on health care beyond the next ten years. We simply must get these health costs under control.”

Gee, we can’t afford health care, we can’t afford rising energy costs but people are buying stocks as if both industries have nowhere to go but up, despite lower demand and rising unemployment. I guess we can keep borrowing and borrowing and borrowing and borrowing to pay the ever-increasing prices projected by commodity futures and biotech multiples but one would think there’s a theoretical limit…

There’s a major disconnect going on between the markets and reality - perhaps it is end of quarter window dressing by financials and funds so desperate for a good quarter they will do anything to maintain the market for another 7 days . Just this morning the Nikkei was up 84 points despite the Dollar falling back below 96 Yen. That wasn’t even the bad news for Japan though: Inside the country, consumer prices fell at a record pace in May adding to the risk that deflation will become entrenched and hamper a rebound from the nation’s worst postwar recession. Prices excluding fresh food slid 1.1 percent from a year earlier after dropping 0.1 percent in the preceding two months, the statistics bureau said today in Tokyo. It was the sharpest decrease since comparable figures were first compiled in 1971.

Defaltionary Spiral Profits fall, then wages come down, then consumers stop shopping,” said Junko Nishioka, chief Japan economist at RBS Securities Japan Ltd. in Tokyo. “And because people aren’t shopping, companies lower prices. That’s the process that we’re starting to see. It isn’t easy to break out of.” Some 47 percent of 775 Japanese retailers surveyed by the Nikkei newspaper plan to lower prices in the year ending March 2010 to spur sales, up from 9 percent a year earlier. “With demand deteriorating, companies are finding it more difficult to sell goods and services and are turning to discounting,” said Azusa Kato, an economist at BNP Paribas in Tokyo.

I hope I didn’t give you the impression that THAT was Japan’s biggest problem though. Oh no, they’ve got much bigger fish to fry (or eat raw, as the case may be). While their CPI does the moon-walk, the London Times points out this morning:

Anaemic exports, a struggling domestic economy and a dramatic plunge in summer bonuses could cause Japan’s version of the sub-prime mortgage crisis to explode, a leading think-tank has warned. A housing loan default problem is looming and likely to begin in the next few weeks. It amounts to the detonation of a ten-year time bomb that, researchers at the Tokyo Foundation say, started ticking around 1999 in the immediate aftermath of the Asian financial meltdown. This is the result of flawed government policy, whereby the state housing loan agency offered mortgages to families that they knew were unable to pay.

The impending meltdown, which the Tokyo Foundation believes could affect some hundreds of thousands of households, will be focused initially on the country’s industrial heartlands, where corporate bankruptcy rates are rising. The residential zones around Toyota’s home territory of Nagoya could become ghost towns, Kazuo Ishikawa, the think-tank’s senior research fellow, said.

The alarming prediction comes amid clear signs of upheaval in the micro economies of Japanese households. With Toyota, Panasonic and other groups expected to finish the current financial year in the red, the system of company bonuses has been shaken. The Japan Business Federation calculates that June bonuses will suffer an almost 20 per cent cut across the board, and a dip from which there appears little immediate prospect of recovery. Because those twice-yearly bonuses amount, on average, to about a quarter of the annual salary package of mortgage-payers, the effect is likely to be severe. Mr Ishikawa said: “The next six months are going to see a sharp increase in housing refugees. People are first going to try to defer payments, but then they will default and be forced to abandon their homes and head somewhere cheaper.”

I keep telling people but the market does not listen to me: Commodity hyperinflation is causing DEFLATION in the price of everything else, especially when necessities like fuel are allowed to run out of control. This is sucking money out of the rest of the economy and causes a deflationary cycle that ends up snapping back and bursting the commodity bubble anyway. IT JUST HAPPENED LAST YEAR - WHY DOES NO ONE THINK IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN?

There, I feel better now… This is really serious stuff though and it’s why I called a top for Members at 8,450 in yesterday’s live chat session. This is really just getting silly and we take our profits and run at this point, especially with the holiday weekend looming shortly where it all may hit the fan very hard. That is the World’s second largest economy and China’s second biggest customer and the World’s favorite low-interest lender (0.1%) sitting on what may be an economic implosion and WHERE IS THE FEAR? The VIX fell to 26.36 yesterday, back to pre Lehman levels as if nothing can possibly go wrong with the global economy. Well it’s a great time to by VIX leaps, that’s for sure!

Look, I do not like being negative. You do not like to hear negative things - this is human nature, we like to be happy. But this is seriously dangerous stuff people! If nothing happens then fine but please do not get all bullish as if nothing will. A major bank or a medium-sized country could default tomorrow and who knows who they owe money to who would also default and so on and so on. Very sadly, we’re going to have to do a weekend post on catastrophe protection because the VIX isn’t the only thing back to pre-Lehman levels. So is the level of economic idiocy….

Personal income was out today and "economists" (the ones we trust to tell us how the economy is doing) were off by 600% in their estimates. Personal income was up 1.4% due to massive inflows of stimulus but what’s disturbing here is how wildly far off the "experts" can be. This is their job, they are supposed to have a clue! While boosing incomes for a month by 1.4% may sound great, what we really have is an indication that you can’t stimulate a dead cat as Personal Spending was up just 0.3% and the PCE came in at our own deflationary 0.1%. US consumers look pretty much like the cow in the above cartoon and if they stop giving milk, the whole World economy begins to starve.

The media can do their sunshine and lollipops dance all day long and I guess that’s one of the reasons I start turning negative - just trying to balance out the nonsense. I am optimistic that, long-term, we can work our way out of this crisis but we need to do it through hard work, not make-believe games that everything got magically better with no pain at all and, until the market begins to embrace that reality, I will continue to watch the sky for signs of cracks, just in case….

- Phil


Thanks to Phil for the excellent write-up. If you enjoyed the piece above, you can sign-up to receive Phil's free updates here (just select the free option). This is a topic we've examined before here at MarketFolly before when we noted that Dennis Gartman sees both inflation and deflation. It certainly will be interesting to monitor going forward.

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