Could Hyperinflation Happen Again?

January 31st, 2009

WARNING: This is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any financial instrument.

They can’t bring themselves to write the word gold. But keep the naughty four letter word in mind as you read the last paragraph of this piece.

Via: Morgan Stanley:

Against this backdrop, could hyperinflation or high inflation happen again? Possibly yes, under certain circumstances.

First, the rapid expansion of the monetary base that the Fed, the ECB, the Bank of England and others have engineered in the last several months would have to continue and, importantly, would have to feed into a more rapid and sustained expansion of money in the hands of the general public.

Money supply M1 (consisting of currency in circulation and sight/checking deposits by non-banks) has gained momentum recently, especially in the US. We will be watching closely how this measure of money will evolve in the coming months.

Second, governments would have to face difficulties in financing rapidly rising expenditures on the various stimulus and bailout packages through taxes and selling bonds to the general public. In such circumstances, political pressures on central banks to monetise government spending would probably rise. This could be done through central bank loans to the government, central bank buying of government bonds at auction, outright unsterilised purchases of government bonds in the open market or additional lending to banks against government collateral.

Last, but not least, a combination of sustained monetary growth and high fiscal deficits would have to undermine the general public’s confidence in both the government’s ability to service the debt without taking resort to the printing press, and in the central bank’s ability or willingness to resist such pressures. A sudden surge in inflation expectations on the back of such a loss in confidence would induce people to reduce their deposits and cash holdings and pile into real assets. The velocity of money and inflation would rise, and the government/central bank would have to keep printing ever more money to finance government spending.

Clearly, this is an extreme scenario. Governments and central banks would have to jettison their commitment to long-term fiscal sustainability and keeping inflation low, and the public would have to lose confidence in their credibility. Given the reputation that central banks have built up, and given the commitment of central bankers to maintaining low inflation, a return to high inflation or even hyperinflation would seem to us to be no more than a distant possibility.

However, given the size of the current and prospective economic and financial problems, and given the size of the monetary and fiscal stimulus that central banks and governments are throwing at these problems, investors would be well advised not to ignore this tail risk, especially as markets are priced for the opposite outcome of lasting deflation in the next several years. Put differently, we believe that buying some insurance against the black swan event of high inflation or even hyperinflation makes sense and is relatively cheap currently.

Posted in Economy | Top Of Page

4 Responses to “Could Hyperinflation Happen Again?”

  1. scrod Says:

    I believe the last bolded part refers to the yield on TIPS dropping precipitously after 2013 or so.

  2. Loveandlight Says:

    They can’t bring themselves to write the word gold. But keep the naughty four letter word in mind as you read the last paragraph of this piece.

    You really must not say such things, Kevin. White Aryan Jesus wouldn’t like it! ;-)

  3. pookie Says:

    “Governments and central banks would have to jettison their commitment to long-term fiscal sustainability”

    Made the Pook laugh.

  4. Kevin Says:

    @pookie

    HA. I almost threw a [Sic] in there.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.