Deflation May Be Next Threat as Commodities, Asset Markets Sink
As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and his global colleagues fight the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, one danger is looming larger by the day: deflation.
With asset markets tumbling, commodity prices plunging the most in 50 years and banks keeping a tighter grip on credit, the ingredients for a sustained period of falling prices are coalescing. While inflation is still a concern for many policy makers only months after oil and food prices peaked, the risk is their patchwork of rescue and stimulus packages will fail, and prices will start to fall throughout the broader economy.
``The ghost of deflation could be dragged out of the closet again in coming months,'' says Joerg Kraemer, chief economist at Commerzbank AG in London.
A global recession is already looking more likely, with the credit freeze stirring memories of Japan's decade-long struggle with deflation in the 1990s. So European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet and Bank of England Governor Mervyn King may be forced to follow Bernanke, whose Fed has chopped its benchmark rate by 3.25 percentage points since August 2007 to 2 percent -- its most aggressive round of easing in two decades.
The deflation scenario might go like this: Banks worldwide, stung by $588 billion in writedowns related to toxic assets -- especially mortgage-related securities -- will further reduce the flow of credit, strangling growth. That will push house prices lower, forcing additional losses and making banks even more reluctant to lend. As the credit crisis worsens, businesses will find it almost impossible to raise prices.
A `Vicious' Cycle
Using that $588 Billion figure and 12:1 leverage, you've got a $7 Trillion credit contraction right there. And we've only just begun. The credit that supported the various asset bubbles is being pulled back by the hour. The only support for gold is 'flight to safety' and safe it isn't. The Central banks will try to push money into the system and not get inflation until they catch up with the credit destruction. Then gold will come into its own.