A Paralyzing Rise in Money Supply

Sometimes hearing the most shocking news can have a paralyzing effect…and the Mogambo is living proof. Just ask him about the last time someone mentioned the rise in money supply. We dare you not to be stunned.

Adam Hamilton of ZealLLC.com reminds us that "Inflation is purely and exclusively a monetary phenomenon", which doesn’t mean all that much by itself, but becomes much more horrifying when he adds that Money of Zero Maturity has been zooming. In case you were wondering, Money of Zero Maturity (MZM) is considered to be a reasonable proxy for watching the movement of M3, which is the broadest measure of the money supply, which is important because inflation in the money supply means that inflation in consumer prices is coming.

Now that we have the academic stuff out of the way, the truly horrifying part of it all is when Mr. Hamilton says, "Absolute annual MZM growth peaked at a staggering 16.7% in March 2008", and that "Bernanke’s Fed has been ramping money-supply growth so fast that actual MZM is starting to look parabolic even on a short-term chart. In just over 2 years under him, MZM has ballooned 25.1% unchecked!"

Apparently, he mistook the look of sheer, paralyzing horror on my face at this revelation of such a massive expansion of the money supply (because it will lead directly to inflation in consumer prices), to be mere confusion on my part. Helpfully, he reiterated for my benefit, "You read that right. There were 16.7% more US dollars available for spending this March than last! Sooner or later all this excess money will eventually bid up prices. Some of this inflation will be perceived as good, primarily the part that flows into stocks. But the part bidding up scarce food and energy is not going to make Americans very happy."

He goes on to say that these rates of growth in the money supply "defy the imagination. At 12% growth compounded annually, it only takes 6 years for something to double. At 16%, this drops to well under 5 years. If the Fed doesn’t stop this madness, there could be twice as many dollars floating around in 5 or 6 years as there are today. Even with modest economic growth, this means general price levels would probably almost double."

Prices that are doubled in five years? Yow! "And," he adds, "this inflation is totally above and beyond all the supply-and-demand-driven global commodities bulls’ increases!"

And it is all because (as I never seem to tire of saying) of the over-creation of money by the Federal Reserve. Martin Hutchinson of The Bear’s Lair figures that I am too narrow and provincial, and writes that apparently I am too stupid to realize that there is monetary insanity everywhere, and that "other countries have also been expanding their money supplies excessively. The European Central bank has allowed euro M3 to expand by 11.1% in the three months to March 2008, following an increase of 11.5% during 2007."

He goes on, "As in the United States, this increase is much faster than that of nominal GDP, and it had been continuing for several years, with annual growth rates of 7.4% in 2005 and 10.0% in 2006. Of the major emerging markets, China and India have both been operating expansionary monetary policies and now have considerable inflation problems. Vietnam, too, has been surprised in spite of its rapid growth by inflation surging towards 25%." Yikes!

Even more bad news is that "the Reuters CRB commodity price index is up 24% since September 18 last year", which means that prices are rising alarmingly, while this is at the same time as incomes are falling, as evidenced by "earnings in the financial sector, representing more than 40% of total US earnings before the crisis hit, have essentially disappeared in the last two quarters." Yikes!

I know firsthand what it means to have income disappear, mostly as a result of my pathetic "cry for help" of stupidly cashing my paycheck and somehow spending it all on drinking and gambling during one short weekend that is now mostly a big blank in my mind. When I got home and discovered that we had no food or money to buy any, the crap I had to take from my family over the next few months – and occasionally reminisced about to this day – was memorable, to say the least, and so I can only imagine the screaming and yelling and crying when "40% of total US earnings" disappears! Yow!

And I can only imagine the screaming, yelling and crying in the retirement sector, as all retirement funds take huge, huge freaking whacks and people learn, once again for the zillionth time in history, that investing in the stock market over the long-term is, at best, a loser for the majority of investors, and a loser for everybody at the worst, and all because of inflation in the money supply and the inflation in prices, which is the reason for my crying.

Mr. Hutchinson ignores my crying and blubbering about the horror of inflation that is starting to devour us, and callously increases my horror by saying, "In the United States, the producer price index increased 6.9% in the year to March, while that for crude goods increased more than 30%. Like a bowling ball swallowed by a python, that inflation will move through the economic system and eventually be reflected in consumer prices. Indeed, it may already be showing up there; the seasonally unadjusted consumer price index for March was up 0.9% (an annual rate of around 11%) and only a heroic seasonal adjustment of 0.6%, double the next largest seasonal adjustment for any month in the last ten years, brought the figure down to an acceptable 0.3%."

The biggest "seasonal adjustment" in the last ten years? And the best it can do is bring March’s annualized inflation to almost 4%? We’re freaking doomed!

Except, as I will add for the zillionth time, for the people who buy gold and silver…(hint, hint, hint.)

Until next time,

The Mogambo Guru
for The Daily Reckoning
June 2, 2008

The Mogambo Sez: Each time that gold or silver go down, buy more until you have the stuff stacked all over the house and you are tripping over all the piles of silver and gold, bruising your shins, which hurts like hell.

If you don’t, you will spend the rest of your life living in the dirt and wishing you had, begging for money and table scraps from those who did.

At least, that is how it has worked out in history! Hahahaha! Hey! This economics stuff is easy!

Richard Daughty is general partner and COO for Smith Consultant Group, serving the financial and medical communities, and the editor of The Mogambo Guru economic newsletter – an avocational exercise to heap disrespect on those who desperately deserve it.

The Mogambo Guru is quoted frequently in Barron’s, The Daily Reckoning and other fine publications.

May, being a hard act to follow
God created June…

Peak this…peak that…

This just in from a Dear Reader, throwing our own words back in our face:

"’Now, it appears that the gains from mechanization, bioengineering, chemistry and land clearing may have reached their limits. We may soon reach Peak Food’

"Now, let me ask: Has the DR morphed into a Marxist newsletter or something?"

Another reader was more flattering…

"Your writing reminds me of H.L. Mencken, after he had his stroke. But seriously, the one thing that marks human history…above all else…is the constant rise in population and the constantly improving technology to support it. I don’t see any reason why that basic theme should change. Peak Food? Don’t trouble yourself about it…"

Don’t worry about us, dear readers…we have not lost a wink of sleep to the peaks…neither Peak Oil nor Peak Food bothers us. No, it is not the peaks that disturb our sleep…it’s the valleys.

As our Dear Reader points out, we’ve faced peaks before. Many of them. Somehow we’ve made it over them – and then scooted down the other side. That’s how history works – like topography. Peaks, valleys, and broad, fertile plains. What more could you ask for?

We’ll return to the Peaks in a moment…but first let us look around…and get the lay of the land.

Oil sold off last week…and ended at $127. Gold rallied on Friday, but still ended the week considerably down.

Last week, we thought we saw an important break in the terrain. Speculators were betting that the Fed would reverse course and begin raising interest rates. This boosted the dollar, whacked gold, and sent the bond market tumbling. Lower bond prices come with higher yields; soon, the economy begins to sulk as if it had been punished.

"US mortgage rates leap ahead as investors bet on move from Fed," is the headline in the Financial Times this morning. Thirty-year fixed-rate mortgages rose above 6% for the first time in nearly three months; jumbo mortgage money cost 7.21%. Ten-year notes, meanwhile, fell to yield more than 4%.

Ain’t markets wonderful, dear reader? All that hard work that the feds have been doing – all designed to keep rates low so that people would borrow more money; it can all be undone by a day’s trading!

"The surge in mortgage rates will make it more expensive to buy homes and less likely that existing homeowners will be able to refinance mortgages. That in turn, is likely to dampen hopes of an early recovery in the US housing market," explained the FT.

What went wrong?

Ah…remember the "crude oil vigilantes?"

When the Fed began cutting rates last September, the price of oil shot up. High oil prices are now oozing into the entire economy…greasing up prices for everything from cucumbers to diapers. And the trends that held consumer prices down for so long are shoving them in the other direction. Labor costs were forced down, for example, as hundreds of millions of Asians entered the worldwide job market. But now those laborers are cooking with gas…and driving automobiles…and eating regular meals – competing with Americans for food and energy, and driving up prices even as the U.S. economy goes into a slump.

Here is the latest from the Associated Press:

"Indonesians are staging protests against shrinking gasoline subsidies in a nation where nearly half the population of 235 million lives on less than $2 a day. And there are now 887 million vehicles in the world, up from 553 million vehicles just 15 years ago, and on track to nearly double to a billion by 2012, according to London-based consultancy Global Insight.

"So as oil prices have soared, average U.S. [gasoline] prices have gone up 144 percent in the past five years – from $1.67 in May 2003 to $4.02 a gallon this month, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Over the same period, gas prices in France went up 117 percent to $9.66 a gallon.

"Proposals by U.S. presidential candidates John McCain and Hillary Clinton to suspend federal gas taxes this summer would lower the price tag – but have little effect on the underlying oil price. French President Nicholas Sarkozy has urged the EU to cut value-added tax on fuel.

"French fishermen and farmers, who need fuel for their trawlers and tractors, say their livelihoods are threatened by soaring prices and have blocked oil terminals around France and shipping traffic on the English Channel to demand government help. Italian, Portuguese and Spanish fisherman joined them and went on strike Friday. British and Bulgarian truckers are staging fuel protests, too.

"Turkey faces similar problems – and even higher prices – $11.29 a gallon, which for a full tank in a midsize car can reach nearly $200, enough for a domestic plane ticket."

How do people deal with higher gas prices? Of course, they economize. In the Philadelphia area, for example, Triple A reports that they buy less gasoline…and then run out. AAA is getting twice as many calls from stranded motorists with empty tanks.

Consumer confidence is out of gas too – at its lowest reading in 28 years. And no wonder; house prices are still falling…while consumer prices are going up much more quickly than CPI numbers suggest.

On the housing front, the Boston Globe reports that some nearby cities have seen property prices fall by as much as 33% in the last year. And the New York Times adds that the housing problem is "trickling up" to the upper middle class. It may have begun with marginal subprime borrowers, says the paper, but now even expensive houses in good neighborhoods are getting marketed down…and taking much longer to sell. God forbid that you need to sell in a hurry; sellers have little bargaining power.

And thank God for those rebate checks. They’ll buy nearly 300 gallons of gasoline for every man, woman, and child in the country. That ought to keep the nation rolling for a bit longer…

*** Back to our theme. What was it? Oh yes, Peak Food. Well, we won’t actually have anything to say on the subject until later in the week. For today, we merely observe that people are ready to believe practically anything. In the early ’70s, they seemed to believe that we would all "starve…in the dark" as the world ran out of vital supplies. Then, in the ’90s (and still today) most people came to believe that there is nothing to worry about…that new supplies will always come forward just when they are needed.

*** This week marks the euro’s 10th anniversary.

We remember when it came out. The "Esperanto Money," we called it, referring to the ersatz language that never quite caught on.

The dollar is bad enough; at least it is supported by the full faith and credit of the United States of America, for whatever that is worth. Whose full faith and credit stood behind the euro? What nation would be willing to stick with the new money when the going really got tough?

The euro opened at $1.12 to the greenback. Then, it sank below 90 cents. It looked doomed; the American paper was stronger, surer, more lasting.

But then our initial skepticism towards Europe’s new money quickly turned to admiration. The euro’s weaknesses were actually its great strength. Since no nation stood behind it, none would knock it down to get where it wanted to go. Just as the Europeans could never agree on sausages or military campaigns, they would never agree on the destruction of their money. If French wanted a weak euro to help enliven their economy, the Germans and the English would tell them to stop whining and show some backbone. If it were the English whose economy went soft and who wanted an easier money policy, likewise, the French would like nothing better than to deny it to them.

That is the charm of the Europeans; they detest each other mutually. The French would rather endure a depression themselves than spare the English one. And as for the Italians, the Irish, the Austrians…and all the other peoples at the periphery – well, they can just look out for themselves!

But rather than leave the European Central Bank weak and subservient, it actually makes it stronger and more independent. Its officials may have no more integrity than officials of the Federal Reserve. Their economic theories may be no better. But at least they are unresponsive. In central banking, the consequence of inertia and inactivity is almost always salutary.

While the Fed has cut rates…raised them…and then cut them again, the ECB has done nothing. And the euro has almost doubled from its low and now trades for $1.55.

Until tomorrow,

Bill Bonner
The Daily Reckoning