Monday, January 18, 2010

US Crosses the Bernholz Line — Hyperinflation Early Warning Signal

What hyper-inflation means, in a nutshell, is, if you're not off the grid, you can put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.

    Economic Policy Journal -

    Economic historian Peter Bernholz has identified that inflation starts to take on hyperinflationary characteristics some time after the deficits of a country as a share of government expenditure rise above a third and stay there for several years.

    According to Bernholz, the great hyperinflations of France, Germany, Poland, Brazil, and Bolivia all occurred after deficits reached that magic percentage or higher (In Bolivia, it reached 91%). The United States crossed over the Bernholz line last year.

    Japan is even deeper into the warning despite concerns of many that it has a deflation problem. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes:

    2010 will prove to be the year that Japan flips from deflation to something very different: the beginnings of debt monetization by a terrified central bank that will ultimately spin out of control, perhaps crossing into hyperinflation by the middle of the decade...

    Japan has been [above the Bernholz line]...almost continuously for the last eight years....Japan’s Bernholz index will rise above 50pc this year for the first time, meaning that it will have to borrow more from the bond markets than raises in tax revenue.
    Clearly, crossing the Bernholz Line does not mean that hyperinflation is immediately around the corner. It's an early warning signal. What it does indicate is that a government is having trouble raising money outside of borrowing it. This results in tremendous supplies of new debt that the markets must absorb, pushing interest rates higher, and thus putting enormous pressure on a central bank to monetize the debt.

    The specifics of how long after passing the Bernholz Line a hyperinflation kicks in varies greatly. But like a doctor, who detects in a patient the first signs of Alzheimer's, the prognosis is not good.