Monday, August 15, 2011

Confiscatory Deflation and Gold Prices

This is a reply to an objection

Gold’s rise represents:

1. fear of bank failure.

My reply

With all the money being sunk into the banking system of major economies, such observation omits the current evidences that abounds (from ECB’s $1 Trilion QE, Fed’s explicit guarantee and rollover of principal payments, SNB’s and Japan’s currency interventions and bans on short sales by 4 European nations plus Turkey and South Korea)

This of course doesn’t even include the money spent for the bailouts during the 2008 crisis where the Federal Reserve audit revealed $16 trillion issued to foreign banks and or previous estimates of $23.7 trillion exposure of US taxpayer money to save the systemically important or ‘too big to fail’ banks and other politically privileged companies.

As one would note, people stuck with an ideology will tend to dismiss evidences even if these have been blatantly “staring at their faces’.

2. concerns of the "Pesofication" of hard currency accounts

My reply

Assumptions that government’s may confiscate deposits or prevent withdrawals like the Argentina crisis (1999-2002) does not translate to an increase of demand for gold, for the simple reason that such government policies promote deflation.

Austrian Economist Joseph Salerno calls this ‘Confiscatory Deflation’

Mr. Salerno explains (bold emphasis mine)

As a result, Argentina's money supply (M1) increased at an average rate of 60 percent per year from 1991 through 1994. After declining to less than 5 percent for 1995, the growth rate of the money supply shot up to over 15 percent in 1996 and nearly 20 percent in 1997. In 1998, with the peso overvalued as a result of inflated domestic product prices and foreign investors rapidly losing confidence that the peso would not be devalued, the influx of dollars ceased and the inflationary boom came to a screeching halt as the money supply increased by about 1 percent and the economy went into recession. Money growth turned slightly negative in 1999, while in 2000, the money supply contracted by almost 20 percent.

The money supply continued to contract at a double-digit annual rate through June 2001. In 2001, domestic depositors began to lose confidence in the banking system, and a bank credit deflation began in earnest as the system lost 17 percent, or $14.5 billion worth, of deposits.

On Friday, November 30, alone, between $700 million and $2 billion of deposits--reports vary--were withdrawn from Argentine banks. Even before that Friday bank run, the central bank possessed only $5.5 billion of reserves ultimately backing $70 billion worth of dollar and convertible peso deposits. President Fernando de la Rua and his economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, responded to this situation on Saturday, December 1, announcing a policy that amounted to confiscatory deflation to protect the financial system and maintain the fixed peg to the dollar.

Specifically, cash withdrawals from banks were to be limited to $250 per depositor per week for the next ninety days, and all overseas cash transfers exceeding $1,000 were to be strictly regulated. Anyone attempting to carry cash out of the country by ship or by plane was to be interdicted.

Finally, banks were no longer permitted to issue loans in pesos, only in dollars, which were exceedingly scarce. Depositors were still able to access their bank deposits by check or debit card in order to make payments. Still, this policy was a crushing blow to poorer Argentines, who do not possess debit or credit cards and who mainly hold bank deposits not accessible by check.

Predictably, Cavallo's cruel and malign confiscatory deflation dealt a severe blow to cash businesses and, according to one report, "brought retail trade to a standstill." This worsened the recession, and riots and looting soon broke out that ultimately cost 27 lives and millions of dollars in damage to private businesses. These events caused a state of siege to be declared and eventually forced President de la Rua to resign from his position two years early.

By January 6, the Argentine government, now under President Eduardo Duhalde and Economy Minister Jorge Remes Lenicov, conceded that it could no longer keep the inflated and overvalued peso pegged to the dollar at the rate of 1 to 1, and it devalued the peso by 30 percent, to a rate of 1.40 pesos per dollar. Even at this official rate of exchange, however, it appeared the peso was still overvalued because pesos were trading for dollars on the black market at far higher rates.

The Argentine government recognized this, and instead of permitting the exchange rate to depreciate to a realistic level reflecting the past inflation and current lack of confidence in the peso, it intensified the confiscatory deflation imposed on the economy earlier. It froze all savings accounts above $3,000 for a year, a measure that affected at least one-third of the $67 billion of deposits remaining in the banking system, $43.5 billion in dollars and the remainder in pesos.

Depositors who held dollar accounts not exceeding $5,000 would be able to withdraw their cash in twelve monthly installments starting one year from now, while those maintaining larger deposits would not be able to begin cashing out until September 2003, and then only in installments spread over two years. Peso deposits, which had already lost one-third of their dollar value since the first freeze had been mandated and faced possible further devaluation, would be treated more liberally. They would be paid out to their owners starting in two months, but this repayment would also proceed in installments. In the meantime, as one observer put it, "bank transactions as simple as cashing a paycheck or paying a credit card bill remained out of reach of ordinary Argentines."

Mr. Lenicov openly admitted that this latest round of confiscatory deflation was a device for protecting the inherently bankrupt fractional reserve system, declaring, "If the banks go bust nobody gets their deposits back. The money on hand is not enough to pay back all depositors." Unlike the bank credit deflation that Lenicov is so eager to prevent, which permits monetary exchange to proceed with a smaller number of more valuable pesos, confiscatory deflation tends to abolish monetary exchange and propel the economy back to grossly inefficient and primitive conditions of barter and self-sufficient production that undermine the social division of labor…

Unfortunately, things were to get even worse for hapless Argentine bank depositors. After solemnly pledging when he took office on January 1 that banks would be obliged to honor their contractual commitments to pay out dollars to those who held dollar-denominated deposits, President Duhalde announced in late January that the banks would be permitted to redeem all deposits in pesos. Since the peso had already depreciated by 40 percent against the dollar on the free market in the interim, this meant that about $16 billion of purchasing power had already been transferred from dollar depositors to the banks.

Prices of gold vis-à-vis the Argentinean Peso only surged after the Argentine government allowed the Peso to be devalued.


Chart from

Devaluation had been the outcome of an explosion of money supply


Chart from

As the bust cycle of the imploding bubble culminated (explained above by Dr. Salerno above) inflation fell (see red ellipse below).


Chart from

More of the Argentine Crisis from Wikipedia,(bold emphasis mine)

After much deliberation, Duhalde abandoned in January 2002 the fixed 1-to-1 peso–dollar parity that had been in place for ten years. In a matter of days, the peso lost a large part of its value in the unregulated market. A provisional "official" exchange rate was set at 1.4 pesos per dollar.

In addition to the corralito, the Ministry of Economy dictated the pesificación ("peso-ification"), by which all bank accounts denominated in dollars would be converted to pesos at official rate. This measure angered most savings holders and appeals were made by many citizens to declare it unconstitutional.

After a few months, the exchange rate was left to float more or less freely. The peso suffered a huge depreciation, which in turn prompted inflation (since Argentina depended heavily on imports, and had no means to replace them locally at the time).

The economic situation became steadily worse with regards to inflation and unemployment during 2002. By that time the original 1-to-1 rate had skyrocketed to nearly 4 pesos per dollar, while the accumulated inflation since the devaluation was about 80%; these figures were considerably lower than those foretold by most orthodox economists at the time. The quality of life of the average Argentine was lowered proportionally; many businesses closed or went bankrupt, many imported products became virtually inaccessible, and salaries were left as they were before the crisis.

Since the volume of pesos did not fit the demand for cash (even after the devaluation) huge quantities of a wide spectrum of complementary currency kept circulating alongside them. Fears of hyperinflation as a consequence of devaluation quickly eroded the attractiveness of their associated revenue, originally stated in convertible pesos. Their acceptability now ultimately depended on the State's willingness to take them as payment of taxes and other charges, consequently becoming very irregular. Very often they were taken at less than their nominal value—while the Patacón was frequently accepted at the same value as peso, Entre Ríos's Federal was among the worst-faring, at an average 30% as the provincial government that had issued them was reluctant to take them back. There were also frequent rumors that the Government would simply banish complementary currency overnight (instead of redeeming them, even at disadvantageous rates), leaving their holders with useless printed paper.

Bottom line:

The above experience from Argentina’s crisis shows that when government adapts policies to confiscate private property through the banking system, demand for gold does NOT increase or gold prices don’t rise.

It is when the Argentine government decided to devalue and inflate the system where gold prices skyrocketed.

Both confiscatory deflation and the succeeding inflation lowered the standard of living of the Argentines. The antecedent to the above events had been a prior boom.

In short, policies that promote boom-bust or bubble cycles represent as net negative to a society and even promotes more interventionist policies that worsens the prevailing social predicaments.

Lastly record gold prices today points to inflationism NOT confiscatory deflation.

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