You can have inflation that manifests itself in sharply rising wages, this hasn’t taken place but if you look globally, say in China, wages have gone up substantially or you take Thailand, wages have gone up substantially. Or it can manifest itself in rising commodity prices. Well I mean commodity prices have been weak lately but the oil price is still close to 50 dollars a barrel and it was at 12 dollars a barrel in 1999 and gold is still around 1000 dollars and it was at 300 dollars and below in the 1990's, the low was at 255 dollars. You understand? A lot of things have been weak recently but they are still up substantially compared to the past.
Or you take bond prices, in other words bond prices go up when interest rates go down. Bond prices in the last hundred years have never been this high; in other words interest rates have never been this low on sovereign debts. Or you take equity prices, ok some markets are down, mostly the emerging markets whether it is Russia or Brazil or the Asian markets, they are down from the peak but they are still much higher than say ten or fifteen years ago. Or you take property prices, it depends which properties but most property prices, for example if you look around here in Switzerland, the prices are much much higher than they were fifteen, twenty years ago.
Even in some areas, they may have come down a bit but in luxury areas there are record prices. Or you take the Hamptons, or Mayfair in London, or Chelsea in London, Kensington and so forth, prices are very high compared to say twenty years ago. Or you take paintings, art... I mean when I grew up and I started to work in 1970 in New York, in New York at that time a Rothko painting was offered to me for 30,000 dollars. I didn’t buy it because I thought why would I pay 30,000 for something like this! Now a Roscoe is maybe ten, twenty, thirty million dollars and I have a Warhol, it is not a big painting but nevertheless I bought it for 300 dollars in the 1970s. You understand? Prices have gone up dramatically, so if someone says to me, well there is deflation, I tell him, well tell me in what? You know, Hong Kong property prices, Singapore property prices, even Bangkok, Jakarta and so forth, all have been grossly inflated.
Therefore I think we have to re-examine the definition of inflation whereby maybe we have some sectors of the economy that are deflating, like if we measure wages inflation adjusted, they are all going down in the western world because a) the consumer price inflation that the Federal Reserve and Europeans report has nothing to do with the cost of living increase, the cost of living increases and we have studies about this, in most American cities are rising at between 5 and 10% per annum and if you include insurance premiums, health care costs, education costs and so forth.
So these prices are going up strongly. Or taxes, indirect taxes like tunnel fees or bridge tolls and so forth, all that is going up much more than the CPI and this is where people have to pay for to actually go to work and live. This is then reflected, this kind of inflation is reflected in a diminishing purchasing power of people, that’s why retail sales are relatively poor in the US despite of the fact that we are six years into an economic expansion. I am always telling people, you know when I started to work I didn’t have to be smart because if I put my money on deposit with the banks or bought government bonds they were yielding 6%.
Then from 1970 to 1981 interest rates continuously went up, so the compounding impact was very high. Now if I am a young guy, say your age; then I want to put my money on deposit, I am being F*d essentially by the banks because they are not paying me anything. If I buy ten years US treasury notes I am getting a yield of less than 3%; 2.3% at the present time and it was below 2% six months ago. So how can I really save? How can I make money? I want to buy a house ok?
Then you have to pay a huge price and the mortgage rate may still be around 4% you understand? So it is still relatively high interest rates on mortgages and one of the reasons that new home sales are not particularly strong is that young people just don’t have the money to buy it because a) they are also burdened with student debts. So I mean these are all issues that are very complex.
My sense is that knowing the central banks, and knowing the way that they think, what will come up when they realise that the global economy is not healing but actually back into contraction under the influence of the neo-Keynesians like Krugman, they will say, you know what?
We haven’t done enough, we have to do much more, and then they will print again and that is why I think that eventually we could have high inflation rates and a renewed increase in commodity prices.
They will print again and that is why I think that eventually we could have high inflation rates and a renewed increase in commodity prices.