Rosie On Inflation
We have said often that just as society couldn't spell ‘inflation’ in 1937, it has no clue what causes deflation now. That's beginning to change in the aftermath of the housing and credit collapse, but try to explain the deflationary forces contained in debt liquidation or global manufacturing over capacity or a socio-economic trend towards savings, and the notion of ‘deflation’ gets fuzzy for most thinkers (even Warren Buffet). That doesn't change the fact that the deflationary forces are enormous (and current) and the policy-induced reflationary forces are a partial antidote.
…To repeat — three variables: rents, wages and credit — will ultimately determine the trend in inflation. Down, in other words. If you are not yet convinced of that in the consumer arena deflation remains the primary intermediate-term risk, then go the article on page B8 of the WSJ and see if that changes your mind — discount coupon redemptions are up nearly 20% this year (Club Stores Accepting Coupons: Sam’s Club Joins BJ’s, Costco in Issuing Discount Chits to Members).
…We should probably add here that even though the moves by the Fed have provided ample liquidity, they have not stopped the underlying fundamentals from deteriorating — see Corporate Bond Defaults Hit Record on page 19 of the FT. (S&P just reported that 201 companies with $453 billion of debt have defaulted this year, exceeding the entire tally of 126 defaults covering $433bln in ALL of 2008). The 12-month speculative-grade corporate default rate has risen to 8.58%, as of July, from 8.25% in June (the rating agency is forecasting that the default rate will rise to 14.3% by the first quarter of 2010, taking out the prior record of 12.54% set in July 1991).
…From our lens, there is always a catalyst or a spark for the next economic expansion and bull market. In 2003, it was leverage and a housing boom. What is it today? Cash for clunkers? Digitized medical technology? Chinese consumption? Government incursion into the economy and capital market? Perhaps we should also recognize that heading into the post-recession environment of 1991, there was a tailwind from sub $20/bbl oil; and heading into the 2003 rebound, we had sub $30/bbl oil; so it may pay to ask the question as to how $70+ oil is going to play in the recovery, unless we are talking about recoveries in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE?
"To repeat — three variables: rents, wages and credit — will ultimately determine the trend in inflation. Down, in other words."