How Asset Inflation Will End - This Time

Life after death for asset inflation: this is what happens when “speculative fever” remains high even after monetary inflation has paused. This may well have been the situation in global markets during 2019 so far. But history and principle suggest that life after death in this monetary sense is short.

Readers may find it odd to be talking about a pause in monetary inflation at a time when the Fed has canceled programmed rate rises and the ECB has embarked (March 7) on yet further “radical” policy moves. Moreover, the “core” US inflation rate (as measured by PCE) is still at virtually 2 percent year-on-year.

Yet we know from past cycles that in the early stages of recession many market participants — and, crucially, central banks — mistakenly view a stall in rate rises or actual rate cuts as stimulatory. Later with the benefit of hindsight, these policy moves turn out to be insufficient to prevent a tightening of monetary conditions already in process but unrecognized.

Even had monetary conditions been easing rather than tightening, it is highly dubious whether this difference would have meant the powerful momentum behind the business cycle moving into its recession phase would have lessened substantially.

(As a footnote here: under a gold standard regime there is no claim that monetary conditions will evolve perfectly in line with contracyclical fine-tuning. Both in principle and fact monetary conditions could tighten there at first as recessionary forces gathered. Under sound money, however, contracyclical forces would emerge strongly into the recession as directed by the invisible hand.)

Under a fiat money regime, monetary tightening can occur in the transition of a business cycle into recession, despite the opposite intention of the central bank policy-makers, due to endogenous factors such as an undetected increase in demand for money or a fall in the underlying “money multipliers.” Quite possibly, what the markets first celebrated as a seeming Fed put eventually turns out to be a sick joke.

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