Will You Become an Inflation Victim? Take This Simple Quiz
Daryl Montgomery submits:
Recently, San Francisco Fed President John Williams assured the public that there won't be runaway inflation in the United States. His remarks follow a long litany of comments from Federal Reserve officials that inflation is under control, inflation is low, and other variations of there simply is no inflation. People who know inflation history, and this includes very few people alive today, are getting little comfort from these remarks. Central bank officials have repeatedly assured the public that there is no inflation in the past despite inflation obviously existing. One of the most vocal and sustained denials took place in Weimar, Germany, in the 1920s. The central bank, the treasury department and top economists all agreed that inflation wasn't a problem. It eventually reached 100 trillion percent.
Americans just have to open their eyes to see that inflation exists. Gasoline prices have risen from a $1.60 a gallon at the bottom of the credit crisis to almost $4.00 today. A number of food commodities, including sugar and coffee, are having sustained price rises, and food prices in the supermarket are noticeably higher. I have a friend who records all of his family's food purchases in Quicken and even though they are eating the same foods in the same quantity, the amount they are spending has gone up 10% in the last year. Prices of clothing are also rising because commodity cotton prices broke a 150-year high recently. Copper, which has the widest of uses of all metals, has also hit an all-time high earlier this year.
Yet, the Fed tells the public not to worry as it continues one program of money printing after another. Even though this has always resulted in inflation in the past (the basic laws of arithmetic would have to be violated if it didn't), they claim things are different this time. The continually fall back on the argument that there is a lot of slack in the economy and since U.S. unemployment is around 9%, wages can't rise and this prevents inflation. Unfortunately, real world observations of past major inflation events indicate how absurd this line of reasoning is. Unemployment in Weimar, Germany, rose to 23% as its inflation rate reached the trillion percent level. Slack in the German economy was nothing however compared to Zimbabwe in the early 2000s. Unemployment there reached 94% and literally nobody in the entire country had a job. The inflation rate in Zimbabwe is estimated to have been at the sextillion percent level (a number so huge it might as well be infinity).
Before inflation really gets out of control, take the following quiz to find out how well-informed you are about inflation investments and how your portfolio will be affected by it.
Answer True or False
1. Safe investments like money market accounts, CDs and government bonds are just as good during high inflation as other times.
2. TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities) will at the very least maintain my capital during inflation.
3. Buy and hold in the stock market is an effective wealth building strategy during high inflation.
4. The higher the inflation rate, the better residential real estate is as an inflation hedge.
5. The U.S. dollar is the strongest currency in the world and will remain so during a period of high inflation.
6. If I have 5% of my portfolio in gold, my assets are protected from high inflation.
7. Of all possible inflation hedges, gold will provide the biggest return during high inflation.
8. When inflation is taking off, commodity prices will rise at the same rate as inflation.
9. When a government imposes wage and price controls, you can assume the inflation rate will come down and stay down.
10. Speculators are the cause of high prices during inflation.
Which Investment Would You Rather Own During High Inflation?
1. The U.S. dollar or the Australian dollar.
2. A U.S. treasury bond or a collectible Pez dispenser.
3. A house in the Chicago suburbs or a 100-acre farm in Iowa.
4. A 5-year CD or a copper mining stock.
5. Utility stocks or commodity oil.
6. Municipal bonds or Thai grade B rice.
7. TIPS or a set of silverware.
8. Long positions in U.S. treasuries or short positions in U.S. treasuries.
9. A money market account or a gold ETF (exchange traded fund).
10. British stocks or an antique map of England.
How to Grade Your Quiz
The answers to questions 1 through 10 are all false. The correct answers for questions 11 through 20 are the second choice. If you scored between 0 and 5, don't be critical the next time you see a homeless person looking for food in a public garbage can. If you scored between 6 and 10, you will probably remain in your home, but won't be able to heat it that much and your cupboards won't be well stocked. If you scored between 11 and 15, you will get through a period of high inflation relatively unscathed. If you scored between 16 and 20, go to a neighborhood of high-priced homes (assuming you don't already live in one), find someone who scored under 5 on the quiz and tell him that you will be living in his house in the future.
Explanations for questions 1 through 10: People who own liquid investment, such as money market accounts, CDs and bonds, will lose money during inflation. In the worst cases, they will lose everything. TIPS are not an effective protection because their returns are based on official inflation rates and the U.S. government has been underreporting inflation since 1983. Stock prices tend to go sideways during inflationary periods and can be highly volatile. Residential real estate is a very poor investment during inflation because it can become extremely cash flow negative because of rising taxes and maintenance costs. The U.S. dollar has not been the strongest currency in decades and it went down against every major currency between 2000 and 2010. It is good to hold gold during high inflation, but 5% isn't enough. Gold does not produce the highest inflationary returns, silver and many other investments can outperform it. It does produce the most reliable returns however. Commodity prices actually rise much faster than the overall inflation rate (examples were cited in the beginning of the article). Wage and price controls almost always fail. They only work if government money printing is permanently halted at the same time that they are imposed. Speculators don't cause high prices, but along with foreigners, they are universally blamed for inflation. Central bank money printing is the cause of high prices.
Explanations for questions 11 through 20: In general, tangible investments are preferred to liquid investments during inflation, so if the choice is between a money market account, CD, or bond vs. a commodity or commodity related stock, the commodity is the best investment. Antiques and collectibles are also better investments than liquid investments. Of all the public currencies in the world, the Australian dollar most closely tracks price changes in gold, so it is the top choice during inflation. Farmland is the best real estate investment during inflation. Interest rates go up during inflation, so the way to make money in bonds is to short them, not own them.
Disclosure: Author does not own any specific investments cited in this article, but does hold some U.S dollars.
See also Constitutional Crisis: Not a Debt Crisis, But a Crisis Nonetheless on seekingalpha.com
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.