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Deflation As A Precursor Of A Weimar-like Inflation

Most people consider deflation the biggest enemy of the gold price, as gold is generally seen as an excellent hedge against inflation. Whilst this is generally correct, it doesn’t mean that a (short) period of deflation is a prelude of a crashing gold price.

As the very low inflation rate (and as there’s even official deflation in Italy and Belgium at this point in time), the European Central Bank is taking additional measures to pump several hundreds of billions of euros into the financial system which should theoretically boost the consumption pattern of the Eurozone citizens. It’s no secret the ECB wants the inflation rate to be ‘close to but not exceeding’ 2%, which is deemed to be the most sustainable number by several economists. At an inflation rate of 2% companies can increase their revenues fast enough, without the consumers being hit too hard.

The ECB has no problem to expand its balance sheet to the level of 2012, when the total balance was approximately 1000 billion euros higher than where it is today. On top of purchases of asset-backed securities, the ECB will directly pump cash in the banking system by making 400B EUR in 4-year loans available for the banks of the Eurozone at a cost of 0.15% per year. This should lead to an increased spending and increase the inflation rate as well, until the inflation rate is out of the danger zone and is hovering around the 2% mark again.

Not everybody in the board of the ECB is happy with this, and the president of the Bundesbank has openly criticized the ECB for causing inflation. In several interviews, president Jens Weidmann has stated that the ECB shouldn’t really intervene to actually create inflation. One would think that the governing council of the ECB would listen to a man whose country has experienced the worst inflation nightmare of all industrialized countries, less than 100 years ago.

If you look back at the official statistics of the horror-inflation during the Weimar-republic, it’s clearly visible that after a first bump of inflation there was actually a period of deflation before the snowball effect started to work. In a working paper, Steven Webb was able to gather all data from the period 1919-1923, and as you can see on the next image, the period of inflation was paused for a few months when there was deflation. Thereafter, the inflation rate picked up again and actually accelerated to a level of 7100% (yes, more than seven thousand percent) in October 1923.

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Granted, the velocity of money, which is one of the key drivers to induce inflation, was much higher back then. But this is also the main reason why we think the ECB is pushing too hard to create inflation and will very likely overshoot its target the moment the velocity of money returns to more normal levels.

Allow us to explain this. The inflation rate is mainly determined by two parameters, the amount of money (‘money supply’) and the velocity of the money. There’s absolutely no disagreement that with the recent rounds of Quantitative Easing all over the world, the money supply has increased by a large factor. The only reason why this money-printing tactic hasn’t showed up in our ‘official’ inflation estimates is because the velocity of the money has been decreasing, which has more or less neutralized the danger of the money-printing. Because the velocity is lower, it will take the ‘new’ money longer to get fully in circulation. And this velocity is still decreasing. There are no official numbers from the ECB, but the following chart from the Fed clearly shows a continuously declining velocity of money.

Source

So the ECB is trying to counter this decreasing velocity rate by printing more money. This is theoretically the correct measure to create the inflation, however, this is a short-term measure. If you look at the longer term picture, the average velocity of money supply is much higher than the current velocity. So even if the velocity would return to normal levels, the ECB and its counterparts all over the world will have printed too much money, and even if the money supply would gradually decline again, this won’t be sufficient to counter the effect of a much higher velocity. This is the main reason why we believe the ECB is on its way to overshoot its target as the velocity of the money supply will return to normalized levels sooner rather than later.

One would think the ECB would listen to Jens Weidmann, that it’s dangerous to create inflation as there are more parameters involved in inflation than just the money supply. As it’s very clear that during the Weimar republic there has been a period of deflation before the inflation rate shot up with triple and even quadruple figure inflation rates, we are afraid the ECB is making the same mistake all over again by increasing the money supply even further.

This case study shows that investors in the precious metals sector shouldn’t dump their holdings in a (short) period of deflation, as historically, deflation has been preceding a period of higher-than-normal inflation. As the velocity of money can’t really be influenced by the ECB, its only possibility is to increase the money supply. However, if the velocity returns to the historical average, the ECB and other central banks will have created a ‘perfect storm’ which could lead to the next Weimar-like inflation in Europe. This means that even in a deflationary period, gold and gold-related assets should continue to be a part of any investment portfolio.

Source

As is evidenced on the previous image, the price of gold in Weimar-marken increased faster than the inflation rate, and in just 5 years time, the value of a gold mark expressed in Reichsmarken increased by almost 1,000,000,000%. Yes, that’s 1 billion percent. It’s also clear that the exchange rate decreased during the deflation period in 1920, which might be exactly what we’re experiencing now. Don’t be scared of gold during short periods of deflation. If the ECB really overshoots its inflation target, your gold-related investments will definitely have an increasing value.

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