Inflation is going to be a bigger concern than it already is for the U.S. economy. And I am sure you have already experienced it—when it comes to food products, for example, the size of the container has decreased, while the price hasn’t changed.
The official government numbers tell us that inflation is not a concern; that we are not experiencing any inflation and it’s all under control. As a matter of fact, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), issued by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, shows that there was actually a decline in inflation in May, no change in June and July, and an increase of 0.6% in August. (Source: Bureau of Labor, October 5, 2012.)
We all know the CPI doesn’t reflect real inflation or prices that really matter to the consumers. Food prices and gas prices are increasing rapidly and they are not properly reflected in the CPI numbers.
I drive a sports car that really doesn’t have a big gas tank. Earlier this week, when I filled up my car, I bought two car washes with my fill-up (because I get a discount when I buy the car washes with gas). My final bill was over $170.00! And the cars washes were not expensive, about $12.00 each. If this isn’t inflation, I don’t know what is.
I’m not the only one complaining about gas prices. Gas stations in California are shutting down on record-high gas prices. In San Francisco, gas prices are at the highest level since 2007. (Source: Businessweek, October 4, 2012). These gas stations are shutting down, because their profitability is decreasing—the gas is available, but not for cheap. For gas stations in San Francisco, it’s costing them $4.90 per gallon just to buy gas and they then need to mark up that price to actually make a profit. It wasn’t too long ago when you could get a gallon of gas for fewer than $2.00.
The underlying issue is inflation—the prices of goods are increasing, because our dollar is depreciating faster than ever before. When we import oil from foreign countries—and we still do a lot of that every day—it is taking more U.S. dollars to buy a barrel of oil. This is because the greenback has depreciated so much against other world currencies (except for the euro).
While the CPI doesn’t really show the entire inflation picture, we know that the purchasing power of $1.00 in 1980 equates to $2.80 in 2012. What does this mean? It means that inflation has deteriorated the value of the greenback. Now, with multiple rounds of quantitative easing, inflation is going to be a bigger problem. It will affect consumer spending.
Consumer spending will be the ultimate victim of this inflation. And if consumer spending is hurt, the U.S. economy will not go very far, as more than 70% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) is made up of consumer spending. Real disposable income, as I wrote this week, is declining. It’s a lethal combination for American consumers: declining real disposable income and inflation.
Where the Market Stands; Where it’s Headed:
There’s a term in economics called “reversion to the mean.” The stock market can rise all it wants to on the premise that freshly printed money will make its way back to the market. But eventually the stock market will move to the point where it best reflects what is going on with the economy and the companies that trade in it—i.e. the reversion to the mean.
Today’s U.S. jobs report was another total bust. Forget what they tell you about the official unemployment rate, because those numbers are skewed. The real rate, the underemployment rate that includes people who have given up looking for work and people who have part-time jobs but who want full-time jobs, sits at a ridiculously high 14.7%—unchanged from the previous month. The economy is not getting better for the majority of Americans. And this will soon be reflected in the earnings of major American companies.
What He Said:
“The U.S. lowered interest rates in 2004 to their lowest level in 46 years. And what did Americans do with their access to easy money? They borrowed and borrowed some more, investing the borrowed money into real estate. Looking ahead, perhaps the Fed’s actions (of bringing interest rates so low to entice consumers to borrow more than they can afford) will one day be regarded as one of the most costly errors committed by it or any other banking system in the last 75 years.” Michael Lombardi in Profit Confidential, July 21, 2005. Long before anyone was thinking of a banking crisis, Michael was warning that the coming real estate bust would wreak havoc with the banking system.