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OPEC Presents QE4 and Deflation

Commodities / Crude Oil Nov 29, 2014 - 01:10 PM GMT

By: Raul_I_Meijer

Commodities

Thinking plummeting oil prices are good for the economy is a mistake. They instead, as I said only yesterday in The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy, point out how bad the global economy is doing. QE has been able to inflate stock prices way beyond anything remotely looking fundamental, but energy prices have now deflated instead of stocks. Something had to give at some point. Turns out, central banks weren’t able to inflate oil prices on top of everything else. Stocks and bonds are much easier to artificially inflate than commodities are.


The Fed and ECB and BOJ and PBoC may of course yet try to invest in oil, they’re easily crazy enough to try, but it will be too late even if they did. In that sense, one might argue that OPEC – or rather Saudi Arabia – has gifted us QE4, but the blessings of the ‘low oil price stimulus’ will of necessity be both mixed and short-lived. Because while the lower prices may free some money for consumers, not nearly all of the freed up ‘spending space’ will end up actually being spent. So in the end that’s a net loss as far as spending goes.

The ‘OPEC Q4′ may also keep some companies from going belly up for a while longer due to falling energy costs, but the flipside is many other companies will go bust because of the lower prices, first among them energy industry firms. Moreover, as we’re already seeing, those firms’ market values are certain to plummet. And, see yesterday’s essay linked above, many of eth really large investors, banks, equity funds et al are heavily invested in oil and gas and all that comes with it. And they are about to take some major hits as well. OPEC may have gifted us QE4, but it gave us another present at the same time: deflation in overdrive.

You can’t force people to spend, not if you’re a government, not if you’re a central bank. And if you try regardless, chances are you wind up scaring people into even less spending. That’s the perfect picture of Japan right there. There’s no such thing as central bank omnipotence, and this is where that shows maybe more than anywhere else. And if you can’t force people to spend, you can’t create growth either, so that myth is thrown out with the same bathwater in one fell swoop.

Some may say and think deflation is a good thing, but I say deflation kills economies and societies. Deflation is not about lower prices, it’s about lower spending. Which will down the line lead to lower prices, but then the damage has already been done, it’s just that nobody noticed, because everyone thinks inflation and deflation are about prices, and therefore looks exclusively at prices.

It’s like a parasite can live in your body for a long time before you show symptoms of being sick, but it’s very much there the whole time. A lower gas price may sound nice, but if you don’t understand why prices fall, you risk something like that monster from Alien popping up and out.

I had started writing this when I saw a few nicely fitting articles. First, at MarketWatch, they love the notion of the stimulus effects. They even think a ‘consumer-spending explosion’ is upon us. They’re not going to like what they see. That is, not when all the numbers have gone through their third revision in 6 months or so.

OPEC Has Ushered In QE4

Welcome to the new era of QE4. As if on cue, OPEC stepped in just as monetary policy (at least the Fed’s) has dried up. Central bankers have nothing on the oil cartel that did just what everyone expected, but has still managed to crush oil prices. Protest away about the 1% getting richer and how prior QE hasn’t trickled down to those who really need it, but an oil cartel is coming to the rescue of America and others in the world right now.

It’s hard to imagine a “more wide-reaching and effective stimulus measure than to lower the cost of gas at the pump for everyone globally,” says Alpari U.K.’s Joshua Mahoney. “For this reason, we are effectively entering the era of QE4, with motorists able to allocate more of their money towards luxury items, while firms are now able to lower costs of production thus impacting the bottom line and raising profits.”

The impact of that could be “bigger than anything that has come before,” says Mahoney, who expects that theory to be tested and proved, via sales on Black Friday and the holiday season overall. In short, a consumer-spending explosion as we race to the malls on a full tank of cheap gas. Tossing in his own two cents in the wake of that OPEC decision, legendary investor Jim Rogers says it’s a “fundamental positive for anybody who uses oil, who uses energy.” Just not great if you’re from Canada, Russia or Australia, he says. Or if you’re the ECB, fretting about price deflation. Or until it starts crushing shale producers.

Bloomberg, talking about Europe, has a less cheery tone.

Eurozone Inflation Slows as Draghi Tees Up QE Debate

Eurozone inflation slowed in November to match a five-year low, prodding the European Central Bank toward expanding its unprecedented stimulus program. Consumer prices rose 0.3% from a year earlier, the EU statistics office said today. Unemployment held at 11.5% in October [..] While the slowdown is partly related to a drop in oil prices, President Mario Draghi, who may unveil more pessimistic forecasts after a meeting of policy makers on Dec. 4, says he wants to raise inflation “as fast as possible.” [..]

“The only crumb of comfort for the ECB – and it is not much – is that November’s renewed drop in inflation was entirely due to an increased year-on-year drop in energy prices,” said Howard Archer at IHS. The data are “worrying news” for the central bank, he said. Data yesterday showed Spanish consumer prices dropped 0.5% this month from a year ago, matching the fastest rate of deflation since 2009. In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, inflation slowed to the weakest since February 2010. [..]

Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, a long-running opponent to buying government bonds, today highlighted the positive consequence of low oil prices. “There’s a stimulant effect coming from the energy prices – it’s like a mini stimulus package,” he said in Berlin.

Sure, there’s a stimulant effect. But that’s not the only effect. While I’m happy to see Weidmann apparently willing to fight Draghi and his pixies over ECB QE programs, I would think he understands what the other effect is. And if he does, he should be far more worried than he lets on.

But then I stumbled upon a long special report by Gavin Jones for Reuters on Italy, and he does provide intelligent info on that other effect of plunging oil prices. Deflation. As I said, it eats societies alive. I cut two-thirds of the article, but there’s still plenty left to catch the heart of the topic. For anyone who doesn’t understand what deflation really is, or how it works, I think that is an excellent crash course.

That same process plays out, as we speak, in a lot more countries, both in Europe and in many other parts of the world: South America, Southeast Asia etc.

Deflation erodes societies, and it guts entire economies like so much fish. Deflation is already a given in Japan, and in most of not all of southern Europe. Where countries might have saved themselves if only they weren’t part of the eurozone.

If Italy had the lira or some other currency, it could devalue it by 20% or so and have a fighting chance. As things stand now, the only option is to keep going down and hope that another country with the same currency Italy has, i.e. Germany, finds some way to boost its own growth. And even if Germany would, at some point in the far future, what part of that would trickle down to Italy? So what’s Renzi’s answer? An €80 a month tax cut for people who paid few taxes to begin with.

Deflation is not lower prices. Deflation is people not spending, then stores lowering their prices because nobody’s buying, then companies firing their employees, and then going broke. Rinse and repeat. Less spending leads to lower prices leads to more unemployment leads to less spending power. If that is not clear, don’t worry; you’ll see so much of it you own’t be able to miss it.

And don’t think the US is immune. Most of the Black Friday and Christmas sales will be plastic, i.e. more debt, and more debt means less future spending power. Unless you have a smoothly growing economy, but that’s not going to happen when Europe, Japan and soon China will be in deflation.

And yes, oil at $50-60-70 a barrel will accelerate the process. But it won’t be the main underlying cause. Deflation was baked into the cake from the moment that large scale debt deleveraging became inevitable, and you can take any moment between the Reagan administration, which first started raising debt levels, to 2008 for that. And all the combined central bank stimulus measures will mean a whole lot more debt deleveraging on top of what there already was.

We’ll get back to this topic. A lot.

By Raul Ilargi Meijer
Website: http://theautomaticearth.com (provides unique analysis of economics, finance, politics and social dynamics in the context of Complexity Theory)

© 2014 Copyright Raul I Meijer - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.
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